Why Natural Colours Will Keep on Growing
FLEXNEWS. 26 March 2012
Earlier this month, Nestlé became the first major confectionery manufacturer in the UK to remove all artificial ingredients, including colours, from its entire confectionery range.
Nestlé said it made the changes in response to consumer demand in the UK for fewer artificial ingredients in food.
More manufacturers could well follow Nestlé’s example and consumers are likely to see the increased use of naturally derived colours as demand outpaces that of synthetic colours.
FLEXNEWS spoke to Jennifer Guild, Global Food Science and Regulatory Manager at natural colour manufacturer D.D. Williamson, about this trend.Guild says that although synthetic colours are of lower cost and more stable than natural colours, natural colours are on the rise globally. Consumer concerns over health as well as improvements in the functional properties of natural colours have driven this demand. “There have been worries about the toxicity of some synthetic azo dyes for at least 50 years and many are no longer approved for use in food in Europe or are subject to new reduced Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADI),” she says. She cites the EU’s decision in 2007 to suspend the use of the dye Red 2G, in response to fears over its breakdown to aniline, which tests showed to have carcinogenic potential.
Also in 2007, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked by the European Commission to look at six colours that a UK study had singled out for a connection to hyperactivity in children, the so-called “Southhampton six”, as a matter of priority.
“Although EFSA concluded that the Southampton study did not substantiate a causal link between these individual six colours and possible behavioural effects,” Guild explains, “consumer concerns focus on the possible hyperactivity effect of some azo dyes on child behaviour.”
In 2009, EFSA advised the Commission/Parliament to reduce the ADI for three of the colours in question, namely Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow FCF (E110) and Ponceau 4R (E124).
The UK Food Standards Agency, which funded the Southampton study, called for a voluntary ban on the use of the six colours in the country’s food and drink industry.
The European Parliament reacted to the findings of the Southampton study by adding a new provision to a package of additive regulations, which came into force in 2010.
“This stated that any foods containing the “Southampton six” food colours would have to be labelled with the relevant name or E-number and with the phrase ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’,” Guild says.
“While not an outright ban on these colours, it has certainly encouraged manufacturers to consider replacing them not only in Europe but in the United States and other countries as well.”
However, Guild notes that many in the colour industry find the results of the Southampton study to be inconclusive and a US FDA panel recently voted against warning labels for synthetic colours, although the panel did call for more studies to determine if there is a link between food colours and hyperactivity in children.
EFSA is in the process of reviewing the safety of all European food additives.
As concerns around synthetic colours drive the popularity of naturally derived colours, these portfolios have seen expansion and innovation leading to improved functionality and stability.
Guild says D.D. Williamson has developed DDW 520, an acid-proof Class I caramel colour that is stable below pH 2.5. She says it is “a breakthrough for soft drink concentrates” as Class I caramel colour is normally only stable down to pH 3.5.
As a darker Class I, it requires less dosage, according to Guild. Manufacturers in Europe can label it “Colour Plain Caramel.” The ingredient statement in the U.S. would read “caramel colour”.
Innovation in natural colours has not only lead to improved functionality and stability but also increased prices.
However, Guild says consumers do not seem to mind that they will have to pay more for naturally-coloured products than synthetic-coloured ones.
She cites an international consumer research survey on natural colours conducted by consumer research company Nielsen last year. The company spoke to 5,000 consumers in 10 countries.
“Ninety two percent answered they are concerned about synthetic colours; 88% stated that naturally-derived colours add value to food and beverages; and 78% said that they are willing to pay a premium price for foods with naturally derived colours,” she said.
When it comes to identifying which natural colour to use, customer requirements, either the retailer or the end consumer, have to be considered at an early stage to lessen the difficulty of identifying which options can be considered for a particular project.
Guild says some customers have religious requirements, for example Kosher or Halal certification, or dietary requirements such as Allergen-Free, Organic, Natural, Non-GM, Vegetarian or Vegan. Naturally derived colour solutions are available to meet these special requirements but this must be considered at an early stage.
One challenge from a standards perspective is that the EU and the US define the term “artificial colour” differently.
In the EU “artificial colour” is an acceptable reference to what are recognized in the USA as “colour additives subject to certification”, “certified colours”, “FD&C colours”, or “synthetic colours”.
In the US, “artificial colour” is a reference to “colour additives exempt from certification”, “exempt colour additives”, or “naturally derived colour additives”.
“It is essential that we learn to appreciate the formal and informal language of colour additives and how this language can change depending on the region in which one is working, as well as the location of the label on the food product,” she says.
“For ease of world trade, harmonization of colour regulations would be advantageous – but highly unlikely. It is important to identify which countries the product is likely to be sold in before you select your colours,” Guild says.
Currently, she adds, it is very challenging to have one colour formulation that would be globally acceptable.
Instead companies develop food or beverage products that are region-specific, based on local regulations governing that food additive.
In July 2011, during the European Parliament Plenary Debate of the Food Information to Consumers, Commissioner John Dalli announced a guidance document defining colouring foods would be finalised in the second half of 2012.
The objective of this expected document is to give official guidance for differentiating food colours (food additives) from colouring foods with colouring properties.
The document is expected to define criteria to determine the difference between selective and non selective extraction for the classification of food extracts as food colours or colouring foods.
It is also expected to propose both a decision tree and a checklist to facilitate this classification.
“Some food manufacturers are hopeful that colouring foodstuffs offer a simple solution to the label challenges of adding synthetic and natural colour additives,” Guild says.
However, she adds there are challenges facing colouring foodstuffs:
They too lack a globally harmonized definition.
They are often derived from the same sources as natural colours, so they have stability problems similar to the colour additives, especially in regard to heat and light.
Colouring foodstuffs are not selectively extracted for colour so they will contain other components that the corresponding colour additive will not. This may cause some flavour carry over.
Often colouring foodstuffs have to be used at a higher level in food and beverages to obtain the same effect as the corresponding colour additive; this compounds any flavour contribution.