Top executives from the company granted Ben Bouckley, also representing FoodNavigator.com, an exclusive interview during a recent visit to the Danish firm’s natural colors global expertise center for beverages, sited in Prades-le-Lez north of Montpellier.
They said that Chr. Hansen estimates its global share in the natural food (including beverage) colorings market at around 25%, based upon €170m ($218m) sales in natural colors in 2011/12 and organic growth of 2%, adjusted down from 12% to reflect changes in carmine prices.
Citing a preparatory AC Nielsen study from twelve months ago, Dermot Horan, business development director for beverages at Chr. Hansen, told BeverageDaily.com that consumers in 12 markets globally had expressed a preference for natural colors, seeing them as safer and deserving of a price premium.
Chinese consumers link colors to food safety
Follow-up work corroborated these results, Horan said, but Chr. Hansen was initially slightly surprised by how strong support for natural colors was in countries such as India and China; consumers in the latter, for instance, linked trusted natural food colors to safer food.
Chr. Hansen stresses that multinationals see natural colors (and coloring foodstuffs) as the new norm, and Horan said the ACNielsen study demonstrated that consumers nowadays do read labels.
He told Ben Bouckley: “When you take a synthetic, petrochemical-based solution and you step up to a natural, then you’re always going to see a cost-in-use shift.
“But you need to think about it in relative terms in the cost of the matrix in which you’re operating.”
Natural colors delivered a lot, Horan said, but actually cost very little. Alongside the cost of sugar or packaging, the cost of coloration was tiny by comparison, he explained.
“So it’s an immediate industry response to say ‘this will be very expensive’, but studies and experience have shown that people who convert to natural solutions, if they take it as an investment, and they communicate it properly, they can see an improvement in their sales.
Horan added that this also led to market share improvement, and meant that that the initial investment was recovered.
‘We eat with our eyes’
Chr. Hansen is particularly proud of its anthocyanin-based ‘Ultra-Stable Red’ coloring – launched in August – for the beverage sector, which Horan said the firm’s own tests showed was up to 30% more stable than the closest rival product.
Traditionally with red, which accounts for around 20% of all beverage colors, Horan said that Chr. Hansen had faced challenges in respect of stability and brightness – due to pH, acidity and ascorbic acid presence – namely that a vibrant shade was difficult to maintain until the end of shelf life.
Supplying this color filled a clear gap in the firm’s natural colors portfolio, Horan said – since stability issues were not so problematic with oranges or yellows – while extending stability until the end of shelf life also cut end consumer complaints and beverage (product) wastage.
Since we ‘eat with our eyes’, Horan said that a natural shade match was what Chr. Hansen held sacred above all. “Once we achieve that we need stability, and this is where Ultra Stable Red has really delivered," he said.
No UV filters or colored bottles…
Historically, manufacturers had to use UV filters and colored bottles to protect product color, he added, but were now able to use less complicated packaging, thus saving manufacturers money.
Because red was such a universal color, Horan said that there was no single target market for Ultra Stable Red, which tapped existing market demand in Europe due to berry associations and drinks flavors, while in Asia (where oranges and yellows were traditionally more popular) red was growing in popularity.
“It’s not a traditional color in Asia, but it’s definitely ranking higher on the shade launch list each year,” Horan said, adding that, nonetheless, if one had a good yellow, orange, red and brown, a company covered 80% of the color shades in any given market.
Although there was a trend towards consumers demanding more subtle, natural-looking shades, Horan said that big brands were still “desperately seeking a very vibrant shade that will almost step off the shelf and attract consumers”.
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