Naturally bold

Jonathan Thomas, principal market analyst, Leatherhead Food Research, considers global flavour and colour trends.

The global confectionery industry ranks as a major end user of both food flavours and colours, alongside producers of soft drinks and processed foods. Both sectors have witnessed a trend towards more ‘natural’ varieties in recent years, amidst rising consumer concern over artificial food additives.
This trend has been reflected in the growing demand for colouring foodstuffs, which are finding increasing favour both in the confectionery sector and beyond. In addition, many manufacturers are committed to removing artificial ingredients and additives from their products, if they have not already done so.
Manufacturers also continue to experiment with a variety of flavours in response to the fact that consumer taste profiles are becoming ever more adventurous. Exotic and novel flavours are becoming especially apparent within the sugar confectionery and gum sectors in particular, although the trend has also spread to chocolate manufacture.

The market

According to data from Leatherhead Food Research, the global market for flavours and colours used by the international food and beverage industry was worth €12bn in 2013. This figure has increased by almost 23 per cent since 2009, with growth having largely been driven by rising demand from the processed food industry in the less developed areas of the world (such as India and parts of Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region), as well as the increasing popularity of naturally derived products.

The food flavours sector is the larger of the two and was worth an estimated €10bn in 2013. This equates to 87 per cent of the overall market, with global sales of food flavours having risen by more than 24 per cent during the period under review.

Market growth has been a little slower within the food colours sector, where global sales increased by 14.3 per cent between 2009 and 2013. In recent years, growth has been adversely affected by the falling demand for artificial and synthetic colours.

The growing preference among consumers in many parts of the world for more ‘natural’ food flavours and colours is a trend that has influenced both sectors. However, it should be noted that there can be some differences regarding the definition of the term ‘natural’ – for example, strict criteria exist in Europe in order for a flavouring substance to be classed as natural, while the EU also removed the term ‘nature-identical’ from its regulations in 2010.
Within the food colours market, the natural sector has overtaken its synthetic counterpart in recent years, and now accounts for 45 per cent of overall sales. The use of colouring foodstuffs is also growing, which can impart additional benefits to foods and are also suited to clean label applications.


The confectionery industry represents a significant user of sweet flavours, which accounts for 56 per cent of the global food flavours market in value terms. Fruit based varieties are especially prevalent within the global sugar and gum confectionery market, with demand having been fuelled by the strong link between fruit consumption and health benefits.

In recent years, flavours based on exotic and/or tropical fruits have proved especially popular within the global market for sugar and gum confectionery, challenging traditional favourites such as strawberry and orange. This can largely be attributed to the growing consumer desire for more novel taste and flavour profiles. According to data from Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), 274 new products with a flavour based on tropical/exotic fruits were launched worldwide in 2014, up by 12.3 per cent from 244 two years earlier (Table 1).

As Table 1 shows, mango represents a particularly popular flavour for sugar and gum confectionery products; in 2014, 100 products were launched worldwide, although this figure was down from 113 the previous year. By contrast, the last year has seen a sharp rise in the number of new product launches featuring either watermelon or pineapple as a flavour. The increase has been particularly apparent for pineapple-flavoured confectionery products, with the number of global launches jumping from 41 in 2012 to
60 in 2014.

In the UK market, both the Haribo and Chewits ranges have been extended to include new varieties featuring these flavours. In 2014, a new Xtreme Sour Pineapple flavour was launched by Chewits, capitalising on the growth in demand for sour-flavoured sweets. In the US, Wrigley has recently extended its Life Savers range with Gummies Tangy Collisions, gummy sweets that combine sweet and tangy flavours (eg pineapple-tangerine and orange-red apple). The latter launch serves as an example of another major industry trend, whereby confectionery manufacturers are creating products with dual-flavour profiles, in order to deliver more novel and exciting taste sensations.

In a similar vein, the demand for bolder and more unusual flavour combinations is also leading confectionery manufacturers to use a greater variety of spicy ingredients, especially for sugar containing products. Some of the more notable examples have included chilli, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger. Initially popular with Hispanic consumers in locations such as the US and Latin America, their use has spread to other confectionery markets around the world.

Some of these ingredients have even started to feature in the manufacture of chocolate confectionery. Within the UK chocolate market, for example, the Green & Black’s range was extended in autumn of 2014 with a new dark chocolate with spiced chilli flavour, which is described as containing additional ingredients such as ginger, star anise and cloves.

Other recent new product development in the UK market has included the launch of a 70% Dark Chocolate with Chilli & Orange bar as part of the Divine Fairtrade range, as well as dark chocolate wedges flavoured with Tabasco sauce. In most instances, spicy ingredients have been used in chocolate confectionery targeted at the premium end of the market where demand for unusual taste profiles is thought to be especially high.


Applications within the confectionery sector account for a sizeable proportion of the global market for food colours – for example, the confectionery sector currently accounts for 17 per cent of the market for food colourants in Western Europe. Colours are frequently used to give a bright and striking appearance to confectionery products such as boiled and gummy sweets, which can help to enhance their appeal.

The major trend as far as new product activity is concerned has been the removal of artificial and synthetic food colours in favour of more natural varieties. Mars, for example, has removed all artificial colours (as well as flavours and preservatives) from its chocolate and sugar confectionery ranges in Western Europe and Australasia, a move that includes brands such as Mars, Twix, M&Ms, Starburst and Skittles.

At the time of writing, Mars is under pressure in the US to remove artificial food colours from confectionery brands such as M&Ms in its home market. At present, varieties such as tartrazine and allura red are still used in the US, and a petition for their removal organised by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has thus far garnered about 167,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, Nestlé removed all artificial colours from its UK confectionery range in 2012, seven years after the process began with the Smarties and Milkybar brands. More recently, Nestlé USA has committed to removing artificial colours and flavours from all of its confectionery brands by the end of 2015.

Hershey is also going down the clean label route, having promised early in 2015 to remove all artificial colours and flavours from its confect-ionery products where possible. These moves appear to suggest that the global trend towards natural colours in confectionery manufacture is still gaining in momentum, with producers under increasing pressure to remove artificial and synthetic varieties.

Data from Mintel’s GNPD indicate that some of the most commonly used natural colours and colouring foodstuffs include paprika, curcumin and carmine. As shown in Table 2, 394 new product launches within the global sugar and gum confectionery market featured paprika, a figure that has increased from 235 two years previously. The use of both curcumin and carmine has also grown; the number of sugar and gum confectionery products containing curcumin coming to market worldwide rose by almost 68 per cent between 2012 and 2014. This indicates the extent to which confectionery manufacturers are seeking alternatives to artificial and synthetic colours.

It is interesting to note that the use of some of the less widely used natural colour varieties is also on the up. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of new product launches featuring spirulina, for example, increased from less than 100 to 162, representing a rise of 63.6 per cent. Colours based on spirulina have been developed by Wild in Germany in both blue and green shades. In the US, the Jelly Belly Candy Company is also thought to be developing spirulina based colours, now that it has been approved for use in confectionery manufacture by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


The discussion surrounding the use of additives in confectionery is unlikely to abate any time soon. Data provided by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in its Public Attitudes Tracker, for example, shows that the number of UK consumers for whom the use of food additives is a concern rose from 25 per cent at the end of 2012 to 28 per cent in 2014. Manufacturers are therefore likely to face ever greater scrutiny regarding what goes into their products. The advent of social media as an outlet for consumers to voice their opinions can only accelerate this trend.
As previous analysis of product development has indicated, it is highly possible that the range of flavours and colours used within the global confectionery industry may continue to broaden. This is especially true given that flavour innovation is likely to remain a cornerstone of new product development globally.

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