Over the rainbow

Susannah Millen met Paul Collins, managing director, GNT UK, to discover more about his role and what’s happening in the food colouring sector worldwide.

What is your background?
Natural colours are both my passion and my profession. I am a graduate of The Royal Society of Chemistry, a chartered colourist, and I have a Diploma in Marketing and an MBA from Loughborough University in the UK. I have been working in the industry for 30 years in technical/development, regulatory and commercial roles and joined the GNT Group in March 2002.

What is your current day to day role?
I am in charge of the company’s activities in the UK. Furthermore, as a board member, I am director of international sales and marketing and support the global sales of our colouring foods.

How important are the confectionery, chocolate, snack and sweet bakerysectors to the business?
People all over the world expect their food to look appealing, which is mainly achieved through colour. Confectionery products in particular are often very colourful. At the same time, customers wish for more natural ingredients in their food and increasingly avoid artificial additives wherever possible. This applies across all types of confectionery, snacks and bakery products. In particular parents would prefer to buy sweets for their children that are coloured naturally. Consequently, these sectors are very important to us.

In order to fully examine the overall trend towards more natural products, GNT commissioned market research institute TNS to undertake a comprehensive consumer study. Based on interviews with more than 5,000 people worldwide, the survey provides detailed insights into how consumers in 10 countries across Europe, the Americas and Asia perceive and evaluate specific product characteristics and how they assess labels and food claims. Four product categories received special attention: soft drinks, yogurt, ice cream and confectionery. Thanks to this specific focus GNT can provide unique insights into the demands of consumers worldwide.

The results of the research show that it has become more and more important for food and beverage manufacturers to choose the right ingredients for their products. But they also have to make sure that their products look interesting and appealing enough to find their way into customers’ shopping baskets. Consumers’ buying interests highly depend on the visual assessment of a product – 75 per cent of this assessment relies on the colour.

What are the major challenges within the sector?
Consumers today are better informed and more critical than ever. Thanks to the internet and mobile devices like smart phones, information on any reported effect certain ingredients might have on a person’s wellbeing are constantly available, even in the supermarket during shopping. Consequently, more than half of all Europeans (53 per cent) and 64 per cent of US-Americans take a critical look at the label when selecting groceries, according to GNT research. In Asia and South America, consumers are even more sensitive. Here, 84 and 75 per cent of consumers respectively want to know what is in a product before they buy it.

Our survey shows that the trend is towards a more well balanced diet. In fact, when asked about the role of food in their lives, 66 per cent of the Europeans, Asians, Americans and Brazilians we surveyed stated that they attach great importance to a healthy and natural choice of food products. Thus, manufacturers need to reconcile their products with customers’ expectations.

In addition to changing consumer demands, some countries have established legal regulations that present food and beverage producers with new challenges. One example is the new European Guidance Notes for the Classification of Food Extracts with Colouring Properties. The European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health has adopted these guidelines to clearly define the distinction between colouring foods and additive colours.

In the past, food colouring products based on selective extraction were not necessarily defined as additives. This not only resulted in uncertainties for the industry but was also misleading for consumers.

Under the new rules, all colouring products that do not fulfil the criteria for colouring foods are considered as additive food colours that need legal permission and have to be designated by the name of the category ‘colour’, followed by their specific name or E number.

Any food product placed on the market after 29 November 2015 has to be in line with the European Guidance Notes. As a consequence, food and beverage manufacturers have to review their labelling or even their product formulations.

Many manufacturers are opting for colouring foods instead of additive colours as they are classified as ingredients and can simply be labelled ‘colouring food (concentrate of pumpkin)’, for example. For clean label food and beverage products, colouring foods are the ideal solution.

How have things developed/changed over the past five years?
As mentioned previously, today’s consumers are much more health conscious. According to GNT research, of those surveyed worldwide, 63 per cent were generally concerned with their diet and what products to eat. To be able to make an informed purchasing decision, 67 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to see short and easy to understand ingredient lists. If the given information is excessive and hard to understand, they said they would resort to a method of elimination and scan the label for certain ingredients they personally try to avoid.

Regarding confectionery, 50 per cent of respondents said they evaluate artificial colours especially critically. The second highest score (46 per cent) relates to preservatives. Manufacturers have been reacting to those attitudes. Some of the leading global food companies have announced their intention to remove artificial colours from some of their best selling products.

Colouring foods are now available for most food and beverage applications. The concentrates are suitable for bakery and dairy products, confectionery, oil and fat based snacks as well as soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. The variety of colours has also increased.

How do you see things changing/developing over the next five years?
The trend towards more natural products will motivate other manufacturers to adapt their recipes and formulations. As a result, we are confident that colouring foods will become the industry standard in Europe and the US within the next five years. Furthermore we expect a strongly increasing demand in Asia and South America.

What has been the biggest breakthrough in the sector over recent years?
In terms of product development, oil and fat dispersible concentrates are two very important breakthroughs because they mean that consumer friendly colour solutions from nature are available for nearly all product categories.

In terms of legal regulations, we consider the approval of spirulina concentrate for use in confections, ice cream, dessert coatings, beverage mixes, yogurts and several bakery products in the US last year as crucial for the sector. Spirulina based colour solutions have long been used in European food and beverage products and now they enjoy worldwide regulatory acceptance. Spirulina concentrates allow manufacturers to create products in various shades of blue and green, colours that are increasingly seen within the snack and confectionery sector.

What shows and exhibitions do you feel are most important within your sector of the industry and why?
To us, all shows, exhibitions and fairs are important where manufacturers and customers can explore and discuss natural, innovative ingredients for all types of food and beverages. We meet and engage with our customers at all the main industry trade shows across the world.

How does the sector differ within the most important world markets?
All over the world people like their snacks and confectionery to be colourful. At the same time they share a wish for natural ingredients in their food and beverages. However, this wish for naturalness is not equally spread across all continents. In the course of the study, we identified a total of five different consumer segments, which have different priorities with regard to their diets, from fast food fans through to those who meticulously examine their food and drinks.

The greatest difference was observed between Asia and Europe; 66 per cent of the respondents in China, Indonesia and Thailand belong to the so called ‘busy health seekers’ category. This group has a particularly keen interest in healthy foods, which has to be reconciled with a hectic lifestyle involving numerous obligations. Most of the respondents in this category would not have the time or the requisite information to engage in detail with food and its ingredients. In  Europe on the other hand, this consumer type made up only 20 per cent of respondents. To most of those from Germany, France, Spain, Poland and the UK who took part in the survey (29 per cent) it was considered particularly important that food could be prepared quickly and conveniently. Accordingly, to ‘convenience seekers’, a natural and healthy diet was not the top priority, but was nevertheless seen as important.

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