The Future’s Bright for Natural Colors, But Artificial Colors Will Hang On

09 November, 2015
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The following was taken from the article “Key Interview: The Future’s Bright for Natural Colors, But Artificial Colors Will Hang On” by Kelly Worgan for Food Ingredients First.

To read the entire article, click here.

Key Interview

In March this year, DD Williamson, The Color House, opened the doors of its 10th global manufacturing facility in Cork, Ireland. The new facility will concentrate on the production of a reliable, stable range of natural colors for the international food and beverage market. It will build on its ability to provide second generation natural colors that fulfil the needs of today’s industry requirements. Ted Nixon, chairman & CEO, spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst about how far this family-owned business has come, and what the future holds.

“Every day, two billion food and drinks servings containing DDW colors are consumed,” says Nixon, who took over the business from his father and grandfather before him. “This year we are celebrating our 150th anniversary. We’ve come a long way, from a company supplying ingredients to the brewing industry in the late 1800s to one that evolved to supply the soft drinks industry with caramel colors in the 1930s.”

In the 1930s, the demand for caramel colors grew as the soft drinks industry took hold, and over time DDW’s brewing business took the back seat as the company moved on to more exciting pastures. In 1950, the company opened its oldest manufacturing site, in Kentucky. The company has grown with the food and beverage industry, seeing the importance of customer focus, and as the company’s clients became more global, so did DDW.

Ireland has been an important base for DDW so it is no surprise that the company’s latest state-of-the-art plant is located there, close to another Irish site, its first site outside of the US, which opened in 1978.

“Ireland has been a great fit for us for many reasons over the years. We first came in the 1970s because that’s where a lot of soft drinks activity was taking place; Ireland was establishing itself as a location for soft drinks concentrate so it was a natural step for us.”

“Of course, it also gives us access to foreign markets without any difficult language barriers, and it is traditionally very business-friendly,” says Nixon.

While caramel colors remain the bulk of DDW’s business, natural colors are the hottest trend. Consumers are increasingly demanding in terms of where their food comes from and they want to know that it is natural without any artificial colors, flavors or additives. DDW saw this trend coming and in 2000 it started looking at opportunities for natural alternatives in earnest.

The new site will concentrate on natural colors and will largely mirror the existing natural colors facility in Wisconsin, US. “We produce a full range of natural colors and blends. In opening this base in Ireland, we have better access to many of our customers who reside in Europe,” explains Nixon.

“The market in Europe is very good at the moment, and this applies to most of the developed world. While natural colors are gaining in popularity, though, there is a cost implication and sometimes that just doesn’t work. This is especially true in emerging markets, where feeding people and providing sufficient nourishment are the priorities.”

“I don’t think that there is anything at all wrong with artificial colors and I would question some of the data published that shows otherwise, but the consumer is asking for natural and we are now in a position that we have solved the three major barriers so we’re seeing growth,” says Nixon.

While it is only recently that big confectionery makers Nestlé and Kraft have announced plans to remove artificial colors from their products, this has been a long time in the planning, says Nixon. Traditionally, there have been three major barriers to the widespread commercialization of natural colors but Nixon thinks that these have been, in the main, dealt with.

“Our main challenges have been cost, stability and sustainability,” explains Nixon.

“While natural colors remain an expensive option, they are now less costly than they once were. However, where we have really seen progress is in the area of stability. Years of research have created colors that are hardy to heat and light sensitivity, and that interact together well to create vibrant colors that do not fade. We have also had to take pH ranges into account and be mindful of whether the foodstuff is oil- or water-based.”

“This all makes a difference and research has been ongoing to create a better product than the first phase natural colors that we saw, to today’s second generation products that fulfil the needs of customers while retaining quality.”

Sustainability issues go further than the accountability trends we see today. Key to DDW’s natural colors is, of course, the basic ingredients that go to make the final product. Unlike an artificial product, it has to rely on crops, climate and continuity of supply.

“We have a team of 12 scientists across the US and Europe, who work with the customer on a case-by-case basis, creating the best color blends for each application,” explains Nixon. With 10 manufacturing sites in five continents, DDW is well-placed to lead in the colors market. “We are active in every market, with customers in over 100 countries around the world.”

While natural colors are certainly hot right now, Nixon doesn’t see the whole food industry reverting. The cost implications are a major factor here and while it is important to make deep, vibrant colors available, Nixon still feels that a large chunk of the market is looking to provide the majority, especially cost-conscious, with basic, affordable nourishment.

“Certain segments care very much, while some just don’t care at all. For some, to have affordable nourishment is more important than natural ingredients. A world that goes all natural will be dependent on the affordability of the product. If we could match cost, stability and availability, then yes, the industry could go all natural,” predicts Nixon.

“The bottom line is, people eat first with their eyes. If a product doesn’t taste good, at least you have tried it. If it doesn’t look good, then the consumer won’t even try it. How food looks has to live up to an expectation.”

“We pride ourselves on working with our customers to develop great products,” says Nixon.

With a new plant, twelve new innovative colors, a sound financial position and great growth opportunities, the future sure does look bright for DD Williamson.

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