- Phytolon, an Israel-based fermentation technology firm, closed a $4.1 million funding round led by Millennium Food-Tech, EIT Food, Consensus Business Group, The Trendlines Group, former President and CEO of Elbit Systems Yossi Ackerman and the Israel Innovation Authority.
- The company said these funds will go toward expanding the reach of its plant-based food colorings, which are derived from betalains. These are natural plant pigments extracted through fermentation.
- Natural colorants are an increasingly popular choice for consumers as many shy away from artificial ingredients. Natural colors amounted to 69% of the total $2.8 billion food coloring market in 2019, according to Phytolon.
As consumers continue to push for manufacturers to populate store shelves with better-for-you options, companies have found themselves looking to limit the number of artificial ingredients used, including colorants. The clean label trend demands a more natural approach to food, and a GNT global consumer survey found that 79% of consumers define "natural" as being made without artificial colors.
Although about 68% of all food and beverage products launched in North America from September 2015 to August 2016 used natural colors, creating hues that are as vibrant as their chemical-powered counterparts has proved challenging. Color is a clue to a product's flavor, with research finding 90% of shoppers make up their minds about buying a product from its color and perceived taste. Pigments derived from herbs, vegetables and fruit, however, can produce duller tones. General Mills discovered the magnitude of colors’ influence on a product when it debuted its naturally colored Trix cereal, only to reinstate the artificially colored version in response to consumer complaints a year later.
Natural colors can also transfer lingering tastes from their plant-based sources into food applications. Turmeric — a popular natural option for yellowish hues — can sometimes retain a distinct herbal taste. Spirulina, an algae-based blue color, is temperature sensitive and can also carry an aftertaste.
Phytolon is working to avoid these limitations with its fermentation extraction method. The process is based on technology licensed from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and focuses on only drawing out the colors from plants.
While the approach to food colorings through fermentation is novel, the Israeli bio-tech company is not alone in working to bring more natural colorings to the market. Chr. Hansen has its FruitMax line and recently launched two new colors: blue and yellow. GNT produces Exberry, coloring foods made from fruit, vegetables and edible plants. ADM has a patent on huito blue, which is a vibrant blue that is stable in many temperatures and applications that comes from a tropical fruit.
Fermentation is an old technology that is gaining new popularity in the plant-based space. Almost a third of the $1.5 billion that has been invested in alternative proteins so far this year has gone toward companies using fermentation, according to a new report from the Good Food Institute.
Currently, the renewed focus of this technology is in the plant-based protein space, but Phytolon may prove that the process is advantageous for manufacturers looking for plant-based alternatives for a variety of ingredients. The bio-tech startup has a long way to go in order to even nip at the market share dominated by its competitors. However, if it can deliver cost-effective, vibrant colors, its natural hues may make their way to the U.S. and beyond.