The Shift to Natural Colors and Flavors in Iconic Food brands

We frequently get calls from clients who first describe their new idea with “This is a natural version of …” Sometimes they name an iconic brand or sometimes a universally know item. Either way it is a product that has been consumed and loved for many years but contains artificial flavors or coloring. They want to hold on to the deliciousness but leave the artificial far behind.

At first it looks just like a plug and play but as they learn more and more about Food or Beverage chemistry, they begin to see the challenges. Color matching is often a very big challenge. Nature has an incredible array of colors, billions of variations. Color evolved as a way for nature to defend itself. Colors change based on how much light or heat they are absorbing.  Photosynthesis is an example of light changing color, while cooking a brown lobster into a strawberry red color is an example of heat changing color.

So when we are creating a new food or beverage item we look at nature and say “Why can’t I get that gorgeous blue as part of my product?” As it turns out, while you can name 100 items from nature that are blue, you are not really seeing blue pigment. It’s all one big trick of nature. On the rare occasion that something really is Blue, it’s usually due to copper atoms. No one wants to eat that much copper.¬† Artificial blue used in the food industry¬† is made from an oil base, not copper FYI.

Then there’s a little problem of heat or light. Many products need to be heated in order to be FDA or USDA certified, so your color will change. That narrows your palette down to heat stable colors. After that you need to deal with your packaging, because light will further deteriorate your colors. Beet colors are known for this. So you now have all these challenges that you never even dreamed were going to be problems, which is why artificial colors were created in the first place (not including those natural colors that were a fortune to produce in large quantities, we’re looking at you – Royal Purple).

And this is all just to get the color correct. Flavor is just as complex and nuanced as color. However, while it can be very challenging, the process can also be extremely rewarding. You know after all your hard work that you are putting a product to market that will not only look great but make people healthier and feel great.

Take a peek at this Wall Street Journal Article for more insight on the move from artificial to natural in some iconic brands.

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