According to Leatherhead Food International, Europe accounts for the largest segment of the natural colours market, at 36% of the global total. Natural colours are also the fastest growing segment of the global colours market; overall sales, including synthetic colours, rose 16% from 2005 to 2009, while natural colour sales grew 35% in the same period.
The main issue for a bakery or confectionery maker is ensuring the stability of natural colours at high temperatures, but for beverage manufacturers, the drive toward natural colours has additional challenges, says de Santi, who manages Naturex’s sweet market business segment.
The problem is that most of the popular orange and yellow natural colours are oil soluble, but need to be water soluble for use in drinks.
Traditionally, polysorbates have been the ingredient of choice to make this possible. However, beverage makers now are looking for natural alternatives that are just as effective in producing crystal clear, stable drinks, with no oily residue.
“It’s really hard to predict what can happen in the formulation,” de Santi told FoodNavigator, explaining that the company works on a case-by-case basis with drink manufacturers to get the formulation right.
“We are continuously working on it. It is really a request from the market, not just to work with natural pigments, but to have a natural formulation.”
Although price is important, the area of natural colour emulsion is not as price sensitive as some others, she says, as the main issue within such a technically challenging area is to produce an emulsion that works well in use.
Specific technical challenges include stability in the application, shelf life, transparency or cloudiness of the finished product, and attaining the right shade. In addition, a recent backlash against palm oil in Europe has led to some companies demanding palm oil-free emulsification for natural pigments, shutting down another potential avenue for formulation.
Naturex now has a line of ingredients in which it has replaced all of its palm-derived products, but the right ingredients are just part of the answer, de Santi says. Using the right equipment to create an emulsion with a very small particle size is also important.
“We all have our little secrets in the industry,” she said.
As for specific ingredients, de Santi said: “The best alternative is to use gums, but the limitation is the pigment load.”
This means that in some cases, in may be difficult to achieve a very concentrated emulsion, and clarity could also be an issue.
However, she added that there are many examples of successful reformulation using gums.
“There are no perfect solutions. There are only compromises,” she said.