The 31st annual Natural Products Expo East, held September 21 to 24, hosted more than 1,450 brands including 450 first-time exhibitors. Many were dairy foods marketers. This was the largest show on record and grew by 10%, gathering more than 28,000 natural and organic community members to the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland.
It goes without saying that any product showcased at a natural products show must be “natural.” Though the term natural is not legally defined, the industry consensus is that a natural product would not contain an artificial color, which in the U.S. is a certified color and is designated with an FD&C number. (If you need a review of U.S. food color regulations, scroll down and read Food Colors 101.)
According to a Natural & Organic Trends webinar conducted this week and sponsored by market research firm Packaged Facts, there is tremendous movement in natural and organic dairy, specifically yogurt, as well as refrigerated non-dairy alternatives.
Packaged Facts projects that overall natural and organic food and beverage market growth will be 12% in 2016, reaching $69 billion in sales. This is quite remarkable when, for the most part, the conventional food and beverage market is flat, according to Kara Nielsen, the webinar presenter.
The market research firm projects that the organic and natural food and beverage market will account for 14% of total food sales by 2020, with numerous big brands overhauling conventional products and portfolios in hopes of winning over natural-leaning consumers. Replacing artificial colors with natural ones is a high priority for big brands, with most new brands never even considering artificial colors as an option.
Interestingly, the retail marketplace is split between the conventional mass channel and the natural channel, with each having 44% share, according to Nielsen. Warehouse clubs have about 8% share, with the remaining 4% all other retail channels.
“This is a sign of the importance of these natural and organic products for consumers shopping everywhere,” said Nielsen. Conventional dairy processors can no longer ignore the needs and wants of the natural-leaning consumer.
Photo source: Vitamix
According to Packaged Facts Research Director David Sprinkle, foods today are as notable for their absent ingredients and attributes as they are for those that are present. “Although consumers on the cutting edge of food and nutrition trends may see the food industry as moving at an iceberg-like pace when it comes to making changes, in fact, the industry is remarkably sensitive to shifts in consumer demands,” Sprinkle said. “In terms of food and ingredient avoidances, the industry, from the largest companies to the smallest, has in recent years moved to accept and promote the concept of sugar free, fat free, low carbohydrates, gluten free, no artificial coloring or other ingredients; cage free eggs; and no antibiotic use in raising animals and poultry.”
Of course, food and beverage companies would rather not spend on new food formulations or on new packaging if it’s not necessary. “But when the food and beverage industry realizes that change is inevitable, it typically embraces the ‘new’ with a spirit that makes it seem as if the changes were its idea in the first place,” said Sprinkle. “Indeed, once the food industry embraces a change, it is responsible for that change moving from the cutting edge to the mass market.”
All the exhibitors at Expo East are, and that includes small and large dairies, as well as manufacturers of dairy alternatives. The time is now to make the change. As Nielsen said, yogurt, and similar cultured dairy products, are a major driver of the growth that the natural and organic food sector is experiencing.
The fact is, today’s consumers are seeking out natural colors in their foods and beverages.
According to the 2016 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation, 43% of respondents indicated they are trying to avoid artificial colors. This was the first year the survey queried about artificial colors, and a remarkable number of respondents made it clear: they prefer to not have artificial colors in their foods and beverages.
Innovations were plentiful at Expo East. One of the big stars of the show was Lifeway Foods, which debuted conventional and organic strained kefir cups. Both lines include a natural, unsweetened option, as well as six dual-compartment cups that include a side of fruit, honey or gluten-free granola. The fruit varieties requiring a little extra color boost all get it from fruit and vegetable juice concentrates.
Both the conventional and organic lines include the same plain, unsweetened strained kefir that goes into the Naturale offering. The kefir contains the company’s proprietary blend of 12 probiotic cultures, with each 5.3-ounce serving delivering 15 to 20 billion colony-forming-units. The product is produced in small batches using milk from cows not treated with antibiotics or artificial growth hormones and is fortified with vitamins A and D.
Blueberry Lavender and Strawberry Rosehip are in both lines. Conventional also has Cherry & Chocolate Chunks and Mango Passionfruit; organic has Orange Vanilla and Raspberry & Chocolate Chunks.
Each cup contains 100 to 120 calories, 3.5 to 5 grams of fat, 10 to 12 grams of protein and 5 to 11 grams of sugar, depending on variety.
The company also introduced plain and flavored farmer cheese in individually portioned cups. Farmer cheese is a dry-curd cultured dairy product. This product line is made in small batches and comes in single-serve 6-ounce cups. There are six varieties. They are: Apricot, Blueberry Lavender, Cherry, Plain, Plum and Strawberry Rosehip.
Similar to the strained kefir, the farmer cheese line comes loaded with the company’s proprietary blend of 12 probiotic cultures and the fruited varieties get a color boost from fruit and vegetable juice concentrates. The fruited varieties all contain 230 calories, 7 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein. Plain contains 210 calories, 8 grams of fat and 16 grams of protein.
In general, dairy products, which are refrigerated or frozen, are usually protected from light, allowing for a wide range of natural colors to be used since heat and light stability are not an issue. The main stability considerations for choosing a natural color in dairy are pH, heat from pasteurization and added flavors.
Since the pH of milk is about pH 6.8, natural color sources such as beta-carotene, annatto, beet and turmeric work well and provide a wide variety of color options in the yellow to orange and pink to red hue range for milk beverages and ice creams. As cultures are introduced for yogurt and similar cultured-dairy products, such as kefir, the pH is lower, opening the door to fruit or vegetable-based anthocyanins including elderberry, black/purple carrot, purple sweet potato, red radish and red cabbage, which provide a purple-red hue at pH 4.0.
In Greek yogurt, developers have formulated black carrot in strawberry, cherry and pomegranate flavors; turmeric in lemon, pineapple and lime flavors; and annatto in peach and mango yogurt.
Such natural colors are what consumers want!
Food Colors 101
The term color additive is legally defined in the U.S. in Title 21, Part 70 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 70). Basically, any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding color to a food or beverage is a color additive, with all color additives requiring approval by FDA as a food additive.
Synthetic food colors are classified by FDA as color additives subject to certification (21 CFR 74). They are certified with an FD&C number. This indicates that the additive has been tested for safety and is approved for used in foods, drugs and cosmetics, or FD&C. Seven colors were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Over time, several have been delisted and replaced. Today there are still seven, which can be combined into an infinite number of colors; hence, the seven are considered primary colors.
The seven synthetics are further classified as standardized dyes or lakes. Dyes are a concentrated source of color and are water soluble and oil insoluble. Lakes, on the other hand, are made by combining dyes with salts to make them water-insoluble compounds. Thus, they are best described as providing color by dispersion. Lakes are considered to be more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products that either contain fat or lack sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes.
FDA also provides a list of color additives that are exempt from certification (21 CFR 73). By default, these colors are often characterized as natural but FDA does not consider any color added to as food unless the color is natural to the product itself. For example, consumers expect strawberry milk to have a red hue. If strawberry juice is added for color, and providing that none of the other ingredients in the milk were characterized as artificial, this product could be labeled “all-natural strawberry milk.” Such a description is not possible if beet juice, an FDA-recognized exempt-from-certification color additive, is used for a colorful boost. What is appropriate to say is “does not contain any artificial colors” or “colored with vegetable juice.”
In general, artificial colorings are manufactured from petroleum-based raw materials. Colors exempt from certification are obtained from a variety of sources, including plants, minerals, insects and fermentation, resources considered by many to be natural.