Chr Hansen to double natural colour R&D lab capacity: 'The perception of ‘naturalness’ has changed drastically in 15 years'

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Helios8
© GettyImages/Helios8
Chr Hansen will double the capacity at its natural colour research and development (R&D) laboratory in Montpellier, France in order to meet consumers' increasingly stringent expectations of what is natural.

According to the Danish supplier, which says it has the biggest portfolio of natural colours and colouring foods in the industry, the investment would be channelled into natural colour formulation, emulsion, encapsulation, pigment expertise and characterisation at its lab located in Prades-le-Lez, near Montpellier in the south of France.

The Copenhagen-headquartered company bought the site in 2000 and it has since become the global supplier’s main R&D centre for natural colours and colouring foods.

The expansion and upgrade, which will begin in September this year and should finish in November 2019, will double its research capacity and bring the number of employees from 40 to 50. Financial details of the investment have not been communicated but the company said the expansion would be carried out in phases so that business can continue unaffected.

The company said the investment would help the company develop ingredients that meet consumers’ changing expectations of what is natural.

The food and beverage market is extremely dynamic,”​ the company told FoodNavigator. "For the last many years, consumers and regulatory bodies alike have been concerned with how healthy our food is, and this topic is often connected to how natural it is.

“The general perception of ‘naturalness’ has changed drastically. Fifteen years ago, if the original pigment of the colours we produced came from a natural source, that was considered extremely natural. Manufacturers focused heavily on standardisation of the colour products in order to implement them in their manufacturing process, and the formulations we offered were largely to satisfy those needs.

“Now the perception of natural is more stringent, and some of the formulas that were ideal 15 years ago no longer meet consumer expectations.”

The concept of natural: Easy to understand, hard to define

“Natural as a concept is easy to understand, but natural as a legal definition is difficult. In fact, it is not clearly defined in legislation or food & beverage regulatory bodies. Even though consumers want it, manufacturers have no set of rules to follow about how to provide it.”

Since 2007's Southampton study, consumers have became aware that artificial colors could be unhealthy and have moved massively away from from artificial to natural colours.

“This awareness made consumers and manufacturers alike aware of the differences between the terms ‘artificial,’ ‘nature-identical,’ ‘nature-derived’ and ‘natural.’”

A few years down the line also saw the emergence of colouring foods, which the firm sees as part of this evolution towards naturalness.

“The regulation calls for colouring foodstuffs to be minimally processed. For example, there is a limit to how much plant matter can be removed from the colour even though they have no colouring value.

“Of course consumers’ desire for naturalness doesn’t only apply to colours. As an example, some manufacturers now prefer ​[to list] lemon juice instead of citric acid in their ingredients. We are fully in favour of the movement towards naturalness and constantly work to meet the evolving perception of this.”

As for tracing future trends, the Danish company is increasingly turning its attention to the booming foodservice sector, particularly in the US.

“More than half of all food consumed by Americans comes from the foodservice sector, and many of the suppliers to restaurants have recognized the same need as food brands have,” ​it said.

Chr. Hansen has over 3,000 employees worldwide and posted revenue of €1.06 billion in the 2016/2017 financial year.

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