Chr. Hansen launches natural blue and yellow colors for candy

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Dive Brief:

  • Chr. Hansen is offering two new plant-based food colorants for confectionery applications: FruitMax Yellow 1000 WSS and FruitMax Blue 1506 WS, according to press releases. The blue is created using a spirulina base, and the yellow is derived from turmeric.
  • Blue is a popular color for sweet flavors from blue raspberry to wintergreen, but is not frequently found in nature. The ingredients company says its liquid blue formulation can retain its color in hot candy masses, and performs well in both sugar-free and sugar-based applications.
  • The turmeric-based yellow colorant was specially formulated to minimize off tastes. It is marketed not only to make yellow but also to use to generate vibrant oranges and greens. These colors have been known to be notoriously difficult to replicate in natural formulations. 

Dive Insight:

As consumers continue to load up their shopping carts with healthier foods, manufacturers have continued to clean up their labels by reformulating and investing in brands that use limited numbers of artificial ingredients. However, not all ingredients are simple to replace. In particular, colors in confections presented manufacturers with difficulties.

Hershey announced in 2015 it would simplify ingredients in many of its candies. The confectioner previously has said it struggled to recreate vibrant reds, greens and other colors that give its Jolly Ranchers hard candies their signature brightness using natural colors. Hershey isn’t alone. Mars also tried to swap its artificially-colored blue M&Ms for a spirulina-based color, but the New York Times reported in 2016 there was not yet enough natural colorant at the time to fully execute the color conversion.

Even when faced with challenges in producing a natural color choice for candy, companies are continuing to pursue this goal. In 2013, Mars was given permission from the FDA to create the first natural blue food color approved for use in the U.S. out of spirulina. Since then, many ingredient companies and manufacturers have worked to create a blue coloring that is as vibrant as its artificial counterpart. Last year, GNT Group introduced high-intensity blue food coloring made from spirulina. ADM patented huito blue, a natural coloring that comes from a tropical fruit.

Despite these advances, blue remains a particularly pesky color to recreate from natural sources. Consumers are sensitive to color changes and associate them with changes of flavor. In the case of candy, even if a candy’s flavor remains exactly the same, a duller or creamier color may cause consumers to believe it doesn’t taste as sweet as a brighter shade.

Blue is not the only color that has presented challenges to manufacturers. Natural yellow colors have gone through many iterations in recent years because turmeric — a popular natural source — can retain a distinct herbal taste. Chr. Hansen claims its turmeric-based yellow coloring has minimal off-taste and is a cost-effective alternative to using safflower, which is commonly used for natural yellow coloring.

Turmeric also has the advantage of being categorized as a superfood, which could give applications using this new coloring a greater health halo. Turmeric became a star on clean labels, and 2016 there was a 21% increase of new product launches with the ingredient. In 2020, the ingredient made the list of top 5 functional ingredients consumers want to try in a survey by Buzzback. The ingredient has been credited with pain relief for inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism and osteoarthritis, as well as other health benefits including enhancing memory function and alleviating depression.

Having a host of functional, healthful properties to a natural yellow and blue coloring could prove advantageous in the current market, where consumers are seeking out immunity-boosting foods that contribute to warding off illness. According to a survey by Beneo, an estimated 75% of consumers globally said they plan to eat and drink healthier as a result of the pandemic.

Although consumers continue to demand functional ingredients, Chr. Hansen’s natural color’s business is slow growing. In the first part of the year, natural colors posted negative growth. While the ingredients company continues to add to this portion of its business, it is simultaneously considering a sale of this business unit. However, the strategic review of its natural colors business unit is still ongoing. Should the company choose to pursue a sale of its colorful business unit, these new additions could make it more valuable.

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