Food and Beverage Colours: Consumers Demand a Natural Rainbow

10 Sep 2013

Colour influences our food choices more than we realise. The main purpose of colour ingredients in food and beverages is to offset the colour that is lost during processing, or to enhance the naturally occurring colour. Nobody wants a fruit flavoured drink that’s a pale shade of brown or canned vegetables that have a similar […]

Food and Beverage Colours: Consumers Demand a Natural Rainbow

Colour influences our food choices more than we realise. The main purpose of colour ingredients in food and beverages is to offset the colour that is lost during processing, or to enhance the naturally occurring colour. Nobody wants a fruit flavoured drink that’s a pale shade of brown or canned vegetables that have a similar hue to a dirty pond. Without colour ingredients, this would be the reality. Consumers also closely associate colour with flavour, with brighter colours in food associated with stronger, richer tastes. In recent years, research and development of natural product colours has focused on fruit, vegetable and plant extracts and concentrates – food’s original colour palette.

Colour ingredients are also used to attract consumers’ attention, with the use of vivid, playful colours in products such as sugar confectionery, ice cream and soft drinks. However, food safety has cast a shadow over brightly coloured foods in Europe after a group of researchers at Southampton University confirmed in 2007 that the consumption of several synthetic food colours, including allura red and sunset yellow and dubbed the ‘Southampton Six’, were associated with behavioural problems in children. Rather than being attracted to coloured products, European consumers now ask themselves “What is in that to make it so bright?” and “Is that coloured food safe for my child to consume?” While all food additives are scrupulously tested by the European Food Safety Authority, when it comes to colour ingredients the European preference is overwhelmingly natural.

This is not the case in other parts of the world – at least, not yet. Euromonitor data shows that in 2012, Asia Pacific consumed over a quarter of all synthetic food colours globally, making it the second largest consumer of synthetic food colours after the US. Awareness of the use of natural and synthetic ingredients in processed food remains low in this region – hence the relatively low demand for natural colours in comparison to Europe. However, a rising middle class in countries such as China, Indonesia and India, with an increased interest in food safety, has led to a rising demand for more natural and healthy ingredients, including natural colours. Given the size of the food and beverage market in Asia and its strong rate of growth – in 2017 it is expected that Asia Pacific will consume nearly as much packaged food as Western Europe and North America combined in volume terms – this region perhaps has the most potential for growth for natural food and beverages.

The US is the world’s largest market for natural product colours, consuming over 430,000 tonnes of natural product colours in food and beverage products in 2012. Germany is the only European market to feature in the largest five markets for natural products colours. Because of their sheer size, China, Mexico and Brazil are the second, third and fourth largest consumers of natural product colours in food and beverages globally.

Volume consumption of natural product colours in food and beverages in the top 5 countries, 2012

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