Colour is a crucial element of food and beverage formulation, as it plays a significant role in shaping the consumer perception of products. Not only does it affect the visual appeal of a product, but it can also influence its taste, texture, and overall quality.
Tapping into a range of techniques and trends, such as precision fermentation and bright and bold colours, manufacturers can improve the aesthetic appeal of their products to satisfy changing consumer preferences.
Social media is driving consumer demand in the food industry
It was over 2,000 years ago that first-century Roman gourmand Marcus Gavius Apicius reputedly said, “we eat first with our eyes.” In today’s social media age, where many consumers’ purchasing and consumption habits are strongly influenced by the social media they are exposed to, this statement could not be more relevant.
A survey conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that 64% of consumers considered the appearance of food and drink products to be an important factor when making purchasing decisions. The same research found that 42% of consumers were willing to pay a premium for products that had an appealing appearance.
In the food industry, social media is both a source and accelerator of consumer trends. Over one in six (62%) industry professionals believe that social media has increased the speed at which trends emerge and evolve, according to a survey by Innova Market Insights.
Improving appearance and health via precision fermentation
As consumers become more health-conscious, there is a growing demand for natural food colourants. Consumers want products that look great, without compromising their health.
In turn, consumers are moving away from products containing artificial colours that they associate with negative health impacts. A survey conducted by FMCG Gurus in 2020 found that over half (56%) of US and UK consumers were concerned by the use of artificial colours in the food industry.
Israeli startup Phytolon is using precision fermentation to produce betalain colours that could replace up to 70% of the natural and synthetic options on the market today, according to Halim Jubran, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
Betalains are the water-soluble, nitrogen-containing pigments that provide red-violet (betacyanins) and yellow (betaxanthins) colours to some fruits and vegetables.
Using a proprietary technology and baker’s yeast that is more sustainable than synthetic colour production, the startup extracts natural pigments of beet and cactus fruits, providing a colour spectrum ranging from purple to yellow.
Last year, Phytolon announced plans to partner with US biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks to develop yeast strains with enhanced production yields, which will help to “pave the way to compete with synthetic colours in terms of cost and performance”, Jubran told Ingredients Network.
Adobe / fedorovacz
Chinese consumers seek bright, baked goods
Aligning with social media’s focus on vibrant and bold colours, several brands are building demand for products via visual appeal.
Mintel data shows that over half (56%) of Chinese consumers in the bakery sector are interested in trendily packaged pastries that are popular on social media. Sweet bakery launches with an ingredient-derived red colour, including red adzuki bean and strawberry, grew by 4% and 3% respectively in China from 2021 to 2022.
Two examples of recent Chinese product launches in this category that feature in the Mintel Global New Product Database include FamilyMart’s Strawberry Cream Filled Bread, which has a bright pink colour, and Shi Zi Yuan’s Red Bean Flavoured Egg Yolk Puff featuring a sweet, bright red bean paste.
Bold and experimental colours are in vogue in 2023
Globally, more consumers are opting for new and experimental colours such as blue, pink, and green, with one in seven in saying they find these colours to be fun and exciting and make products more appealing, according to FMCG Gurus. Bright and bold colours make products stand out for 43% of consumers, and challenge perceptions of how a product should look for 42%, the same data shows.
In December 2022, Pantone, a subsidiary of multinational colour measure and management company X-Rite, named its colour of the year for 2023 as ‘Viva Magenta’ or ‘PANTONE 18-1750’. The bright, crimson red colour balances boldness with a feeling of fun and bridges the natural and virtual world, according to Pantone.
The colour inspired flavour and beverage offerings of multinational drink manufacturer Austria Juice, which since the announcement has drawn attention to products consisting of exotic fruits such as dragon fruit, lychee, pink guava and figs, or red fruits and berries.