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Riding the continuing tide of natural color and flavor reformulation

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The growing list of food and beverage brands making the artificial-to-natural switch proves that today’s clean colors and flavors are approaching equality with the ingredients they aim to supplant.

General Mills did it. Kraft did it. Papa John’s, Campbell Soup, Taco Bell, Nestlé, Subway, Panera Bread, Hershey, Pizza Hut, Kellogg’s and more—they all did it. And maybe it’s time you did it, too.

The “it” these companies did was replace the artificial ingredients in their formulations—including artificial colors and flavors—with naturally sourced alternatives.

In so doing, they paid respect not only to the clean label trend still dominating food and beverage development, but to the will of consumers, whose patience with synthesized flavors and FD&C (food, drugs and cosmetics) dyes continues to wane.

But as any of these brands could attest, making the artificial-to-natural switch was no walk in the park. Even at this late date, swapping synthetic colors and flavors for natural options requires attention, communication and a tolerance for repetition—because you’ll be making many trips back to the drawing board.

But the growing list of companies completing the conversion—to say nothing of emerging brands that go all-natural from the start—proves that today’s clean colors and flavors are approaching performance parity with the “unclean” counterparts they aim to supplant.

Or, as Jason Mittelheuser, technical business development, FONA International Inc., put it, “Virtually anything is possible, but everything has a cost.”

In fact, it’s gaining broader traction. “Demand for natural ingredients is closer to universal now than in the past,” observed Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager, Virginia Dare. “Now that the clean label movement has become established, formulators are going natural in categories like snacks and frozen entrées that, 10 years ago, would’ve likely had limited all-natural or clean label options.”

Kid-friendly products still receive scrutiny. “Parents watch their children’s diets very closely,” noted Roger Lane, marketing manager, Sensient Flavors. “So, there’s a specific push to reformulate kid-centric categories such as breakfast cereals, sweet and salty snacks and prepared meals like macaroni and cheese.”

As if the regulatory gymnastics weren’t enough, the task of reformulating products to contain natural colors and flavors—however defined—remains a test of patience and fortitude, too.

“In most cases, the taste, texture and aroma of artificial ingredients will be drastically different from those of their natural counterparts,” Caputo said.

The catch: Product developers “want no discernable difference in the flavor or color of the reformulated product,” Lane said. In fact, “many times, they’re looking to swap out both the artificial flavor and color at the same time. This can be a very delicate balancing act and is very application-specific.”

Yet, as Christopher Warsow, director of culinary applications and corporate executive chef, Bell Flavors & Fragrances, pointed out, “The pallet of ingredients dwindles as label requirements go up. It’s a savvy formulator who can work with that limited pallet and still hit cost and flavor targets.”


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