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BASF South East Asia Pte. Ltd.
/ 21 Sep, 2022
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The bumpy road ahead for artificial food colors

The bumpy road ahead for artificial food colors
Food colors create visual impact and have an influence in perceptions on taste and flavor. Today, natural, nature-identical and artificial food colors are used in various foods and beverages. But with evolving industry and consumer trends, will artificial food colors keep its place amidst the changing landscape?

Regulatory pressure is on for artificial food colors

There is currently an initiative in the United States (US) State of California to mandate a warning label on foods: “Synthetic dyes may cause or worsen behavioral problems in children¹ This is a huge blow for the most widely used artificial colors in the US - Red 40 (Allura red), Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) and Yellow 6 (Sunset yellow). California will be the first state in the US to adopt the warning label, but not the first in the world.

Examples of restrictions by markets for food and beverages containing certain artificial food colors

Markets Warning statements on label
Europe May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children
Middle Eastern countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates) May have a negative impact on activity and concentration in children
Russia Contains a coloring agent which may negatively affect children’s activity and ability to concentrate



Southampton Six study sparked disruption in food colors marke
In 2007, researchers from Southampton University identified a possible link between hyperactivity in children and the consumption of six artificial color² – thereafter known as the “Southampton Six” colors, often used in yellow, orange or red-colored beverages. Consequently, big brands and major retailers in the United Kingdom led the way by removing the Southampton Six colors from their products.
What are the Southampton Six colors?                                                      
No Color E Number/ INS Number
1 Tartrazine 102
2 Quinoline yellow 104
3 Sunset yellow FCF 110
4 Azorubine, Carmoisine 122
5 Ponceau 4R, Cochineal red A 124
6 Allura red AC 129

Consumer sentiment reinforcing negative perception of artificial colors
A Nielson survey in 2016 showed that 66% of respondents in Asia Pacific and 62% in Africa and Middle East would avoid artificial colors in food, as compared to a global average of 61%. Consumers in these developing regions are already primed to the idea that “artificial colors” are unfavorable.

Consumer awareness is quickly gaining traction in the developing regions thanks to the growing power of social media. Developments regarding artificial colors in the Europe and the US can reach the international audience easily via blogs, forums, and video-sharing platforms. A recent

TikTok “Food Coloring Challenge”, that should not be attempted under any circumstances, went viral in 2020. It challenged viewers to drink food dye with water to observe its detrimental side effects, including the accumulation of color under the skin. This internet challenge prompted TikTok to eventually mark the video as being potentially unsafe and simultaneously, resurfaced concerns around the effects of artificial food colors.  

Should manufacturers using artificial food colors be worried?
Though less common in Europe, artificial food colors are still used globally, especially in developing regions such as Asia and Africa and in some cases, the US. Could the new initiative in the US State of California trigger a domino effect in the US, just as the warning statements did across the world?

Manufacturers may be hindered by the high cost of replacing artificial food colors; however, the future opportunity costs associated with continued use of artificial food colors has to be considered.
In the next few years, the forecasted growth of artificial food colors is expected to be less than 3%, in contrast to the predicted 6% in the last decade. The global food colors market, forecasted to grow at around 4 – 5%, will primarily be driven by natural and nature-identical food colors. Particularly, the use of carotenoids as food colors is forecasted to outperform the global market with growth of around 6%³

Alternative solutions in the form of carotenoids
There are many great alternatives for artificial food colors available today. Some well-established examples like beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene belonging to the carotenoid group – produce shades of yellow, orange and red. More economical cost-in-use nature-identical versions are available in addition to premium, natural ones. For example in Europe, manufacturers using the nature-identical versions are permitted to utilize the marketing claim of “non-artificial color4; . Products colored with beta-carotene in the US are typically labelled as “Beta-carotene (color)”. These options are business-viable alternative solutions; however, regional nuances and local regulatory requirements must be factored in.

Carotenoids are favored for their technical properties
Apart from the labelling advantage, carotenoids produce colors that are stable and consistent across a broader pH range and, do not produce off-odors or tastes when used in food and beverages. Some artificial colors, such as Tartrazine and Sunset yellow, contain an azo-linkage bond which is broken down by ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This is mainly an issue in beverages - especially those fortified with vitamin C - as their colors will fade when the azo-linkage bond is broken. In contrast, vitamin C acts as an oxygen scavenger and protects carotenoids from fading, which make carotenoids the better choice for use as colors in food and beverages fortified with vitamin C. 

BASF is a trusted carotenoids supplier with deep experience in the food and beverage industry. To facilitate the search process for carotenoids, BASF has launched a newly digital tool - ColorMyProduct – that enables customers to preview how BASF’s colors can be used in their product applications. With a portfolio of carotenoid products from nature-identical to natural versions, BASF is ready to support the industry shifting from the Southampton Six colors.

Click here

[1] Reducing Exposure to Synthetic Food Dyes Act
[2] McCann, D. et al, ‘Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial’, The Lancet, vol. 370, no. 9598, 2007, p. 1560-1567
[3] StrategyR Food Colors and Natural Food Colors reports, April 2021
[4] This claim is prohibited in the United States.  See 21 CFR § 101.22(k).
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