- Biotech companies Phytolon and Ginkgo Bioworks announced a new milestone in their mission to scale cell-engineered natural colors by creating a spectrum of yellow to purple shades — a goal the businesses had been working toward since announcing their partnership in 2022. The shades can be used by formulators to add pigment to foods.
- The companies’ betalain pigments, created through fermentation using two different yeast strains, will be brought to market soon. The colors are safer for consumers and more sustainable than synthetic dyes, the companies said.
- As food and beverage formulators increasingly seek clean-label alternatives to artificial coloring, this development could signal a major development in reaching that goal.
Phytolon and Ginkgo entered into their business collaboration two years ago to accelerate the production of natural colors made through fermentation for use in food products. Betalain pigments are found in nature — including in flowers, fungi and fruits such as red beet and Swiss chard.
“This achievement puts our colors at the forefront to efficiently replace artificial dyes in our food and create a healthy and sustainable world,” Tal Zeltzer, Phytolon’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said in a press release.
During the last decade, food and beverage manufacturers have sought to boost the health halo of their products by using natural colors instead of synthetic dyes. Companies routinely pointed to data that showed consumers were less likely to purchase foods containing colors that were duller than their synthetic counterparts.
General Mills reformulated Trix cereals with natural colors in 2016, which caused some consumers to label the less-bright hues “depressing.” The cereal giant brought back its original formula for Trix with artificial colors in 2017.
Several other food giants, including Kellogg and Mars, failed to meet their self-imposed goals of implementing natural colors into their products.
With access to more bright, vivid natural colors like Phytolon’s, food producers have the potential to retain the visual appeal of their products while tidying up their ingredient lists with fewer artificial chemicals. Through its collaboration with Ginkgo, Phytolon can make larger amounts of its natural colors.
Advancements in the space in recent years have been primarily in Europe where several governments have passed strict regulations on which food colorants producers are allowed to use in commercially sold items.
Despite slower adoption in the U.S. among large CPG companies, the natural colors space will be increasingly lucrative going forward as consumers continue to demand fewer artificial chemicals in their foods.
This will prove important to Gen Z consumers as they gain purchasing power, especially if natural colors can evolve to more closely resemble their artificial counterparts. The natural colors market is projected to be worth $2.9 billion by 2030, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 7.4%, according to a report from Polaris Market Research.
Other players in the ingredients space are making advancements with their natural pigment formulations. Precision fermentation company Michroma raised $6.4 million last spring to scale its red food coloring that aims to replace petrochemical-based colorants. And ingredients maker GNT produces Exberry, a colorings brand made from plants like beetroot and chlorophyll.