Ken Hawkins, South Carolina, US
In recent years, increasingly health conscious consumers have driven the sharp growth of the clean label trend across all segments of the food industry, encouraging customer- focused beverage manufacturers to reformulate their products with healthier, natural ingredients to boost shelf appeal.
Artificial flavours are being replaced by natural flavours, innovative ingredients are emerging as a viable alternative to additives, and consumers are increasingly prepared to sacrifice a long shelf-life for a clean ingredient statement.
Following a Southampton study on artificial colours, we have seen consumer demand soar for natural and clean label colours in their food and drinks. As a consequence, many beverage manufacturers adapted their colour formulation to natural colours which have to be labelled as an e-number.
With consumer demand for e-number free labels rising, manufacturers are starting to move away from natural colours towards colouring foods. Valued at US$1.14 billion in 2014, the global natural food and beverage colours market has helped drive this transformation of the industry.
Expected to grow 2.8 times more than the artificial food colours market, the value of the natural food colours sector is estimated to reach US$1.6 billion by 2020. When it comes to labelling, however, it is not as simple as it seems. Consumer perception of ‘natural’ does not necessarily reflect current labelling regulations.
Natural colours, classified as e-numbers, may hide extraction processes that attract additive status. Colouring food, with clean label credentials and strong performance, represents an attractive clean label alternative to natural and synthetic colours.
Natural Colours VS Colouring Foods
With clean label being far from legally defined, consumers have developed their own expectations over the naturalness of ingredient labelling.
Often limited to traditional ‘kitchen cupboard’ ingredients, the ideal clean label avoids additives, preservatives and anything not instantly recognisable as a food.
The main difference between natural colours and colouring food resides in the definition. According to the European Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008, which assigns e-numbers, natural and artificial colours are food additives.
This regulation defines natural colours as substances that add or restore colour in a food and include natural constituents of foods and natural sources, without specifying the necessary chemical, physical or enzymatic extraction process.
Defined by the Guidance notes on the classification of food extracts with colouring properties, colouring foods are processed edible fruits, vegetables and plants with colouring properties that, critically, are classified as food ingredients rather than food additives.
Because they do not undergo selective physical and/ or chemical extraction, no synthetic additives or organic solvents are used in the production process and their original nutrient ratio is retained. They hence offer all the natural properties of food and do not require an e-number.
For instance, black carrot juice concentrate used in the manufacture of red beverages can be listed as the label-friendly natural carrot concentrate, whereas if the red pigment is selectively extracted and added to the formulation in order to add colour, it will be considered a food additive and listed as natural colour E163 anthocyanin.
Because there is still ambiguity surrounding the current beverage labelling guidelines and regulations, working with collaborative expert suppliers is crucial when approaching reformulation.
Finding Product Success
Alexandre Duret-Lutz, Paris, France
The pull towards clean label ingredients is evident in the beverage segment, where consumers carefully scrutinise ingredient statements. Recent research from Leatherhead Food Research has confirmed that food additives and particularly e-numbers are of special concern among consumers, who continue to seek natural ingredients.
Whether it is to expand a product range or to reformulate an existing beverage, colouring food will help make the switch to clean label. Different concentrates can be blended together to create the desired colour hue and stability in the application.
These blends can be labelled, for example, as ‘(Colouring Food) Juice concentrate of carrot and red beet’, giving the consumer a clear indication of which ingredients are being used to colour the product, boosting the natural profile of the beverage.
Soft drinks, nectars, flavoured water and sports drinks often require colour to be added. When it comes to reformulation, using new ingredients can pose a number of challenges.
The impact on the product’s organoleptic properties could be significant, as the interaction between colouring foods and the ingredients already contained in the beverage should not be underestimated.
Colouring food is an extremely flexible ingredient that can be adapted to different needs and formulations where the best results are obtained through customisation.
Every product has its unique formulation and conditions to which the colouring ingredient needs to adjust. When replacing additives, all aspects of the final application need to be considered when switching to colouring food, including hue, packaging and storage, shelf-life, the beverage’s pH and interaction with other ingredients.
For example, the presence of ascorbic acid can have a positive or negative impact on colour degradation depending on the colouring pigment. The technical support of an expert partner can help in product development and pilot testing to overcome the challenges of replacing ingredients or creating new products.
When switching from natural or artificial colours to colouring food, obtaining the same hue and intensity is the main concern. Different ingredients, however, tend to perform differently so achieving the same results every time can be a challenge.
With the right formulation expertise, colouring food can be optimised to perfectly match colours and deliver a high level of product performance. The dosage of colouring food is generally up to two to three times that of a natural colour. Reaching the desired hue and colour intensity requires deep knowledge and understanding of raw materials.
Intense research has driven significant developments in colouring food functionality. Carotenoids for instance, naturally present in carrots and pumpkins, are generally oil soluble and difficult to incorporate in beverages.
Advances in production process can maintain the natural occurrence of carotenoids in the raw material, avoiding the use of emulsifiers by utilising its inherent water dispersibility.
In today’s market, where convenience is king, shelf life and stability are two important factors that influence success or failure of a product. As natural ingredients, colouring foods are subject to oxidation and deterioration.
Packaging plays a critical role in shelf-life and stability, as exposure to light and oxygen can significantly compromise the quality of natural ingredients. For this reason, working with an expert partner is crucial to provide technical support and understand how a product will perform over time.
Flavour & Sensorial Qualities
Didriks, Maryland, US
Consumers are not willing to compromise on taste, and natural ingredients such as fruit and vegetables are traditionally associated with a characteristic taste that may affect the final sensory quality of the end beverage.
Representing only one percent of the final application, colouring foods are blended to complement their natural flavour profile to give a vibrant colour and, critically, a neutral taste.
Fluctuations in crop availability affect any natural product. The growing demand for colouring food hassled to a higher degree of complexity in the supply chain. Therefore, every phase of the supply chain has to be monitored well to obtain the best results.
Factors such as the selection of specific seeds, the availability and processing of raw materials all play an important role in the supply/demand relationship.
Experienced manufacturers will carefully manage every step of the supply chain, from seed selection, grower relations and harvesting to processing and storage, to ensure a reliable, consistent supply from season to season.
In the manufacture of colouring food, commitment to quality starts from the very early stage of selecting the seeds. A colour-focused approach continues throughout the crop lifecycle, with farmers and agronomists working in collaboration to find the best soil, implement good farming practices and identify the optimum harvest moment to obtain best results.
The product has to be harvested at its colour climax before colours can start to fade, the storage and processing chain must limit light and oxygen exposure, and every detail of the transport process has to be controlled to minimise the risk of quality issues.
There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ colouring food formulation. Next to their standard colouring food range, manufacturers should offer research and development support to develop customised solutions that suit specific applications.
With interest in natural ingredients showing no signs of abating, beverage manufacturers are looking for new ways to improve their label profile.
Replacing colour additives with colouring food is an ideal way to move away from e-numbers towards cleaner label products. Colouring food represents a great alternative for manufacturers looking to tap into the health and wellness trend in beverage optimisation and reformulation.