Natural eye-catching confectionery

Imagine walking down the confectionery aisle in a supermarket and seeing grey-coloured M&Ms or candy? Would it be tempting? The answer is probably not, and with good reason.

Imagine walking down the confectionery aisle in a supermarket and seeing grey-coloured M&Ms or candy? Would it be tempting? The answer is probably not, and with good reason. Not only would it be impossible to guess the flavour, but it wouldn’t exactly ‘catch your eye’, so to speak. 

Many alternatives now available for artificial colours in confectionery products

Artificial colours seen across the world

Imagining a world without colour seems almost impossible. From vibrant reds to mellow yellows, and bold blues, colours play a huge role in our lives, and in the food we consume. Colour is one of the biggest factors contributing to the success of confectionery – both in grabbing the attention of the consumer and in creating the desire to consume it. However, consumers are increasingly wary of artificial colours, especially parents who worry about the impact of artificial colours on their children’s behaviour. 


Food and beverage manufacturers in South Africa have in recent years turned towards natural colours for their products. For the first time ever, 2022 was the dividing line for consumers in South Africa as new products entering the market containing natural colours outweighed those with artificial colours. (Innova, 2022 NPD database). 

Brands in South Africa are reacting to what consumers are saying. 83% of consumers in South Africa say they trust brands that manufacture clean products and when asked what clean label means, 82% of consumers in South Africa say that these are natural products. Specifically regarding confectionery, the same research found approximately 69% of consumers find a ‘natural’ claim important when shopping for confectionery products. There is also a strong indication that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for confectionery products with this claim. 

Consumers in South Africa are becoming increasingly conscious of the food and ingredients they consume. Studies from the University of Pretoria found that more than half of South African consumers are willing to pay more for food products produced in an environmentally-sustainable manner. 

What are consumers willing to pay for natural? 

Oterra conducted a A/B split test of two identical confectionery products. The only difference was that one product had a ‘No artificial colours’ claim. The results speak volumes as our research below shows that at any price point, the product with the ‘free from artificial colour’ claim outperforms the product without the claim. 

There is a threshold at R20 where you can see the demand for confectionery drops. Interestingly both before and after this threshold, there are advantages to be had with a natural claim. At the price of R20, the claim drives an additional 1% demand or at a price of R16, brands can shift their price to R18 and gain an additional 1% demand. We have observed that middle-income consumers will readily pay 5-10% more with an additional 1% more demand for the ‘free from artificial colour’ claimed product over the conventional product without the ‘no artificial colour’ claim. Brands can charge and sell more at the same time with artificial free claims on their product.

The ‘Southhampton Six’ colours

Synthetic food dyes, better known by consumers as artificial colours, came under wide scrutiny when a study by the University of Southampton, concluded artificial colours or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) resulted in increased hyperactivity in children. These results, published in 2007, led to the EU passing legislation in 2010 making it mandatory for food and drinks to carry a warning label if they contained any of the following six synthetic dyes: tartrazine (E102); quinoline yellow (E104); carmoisine (E122); sunset yellow (E110); ponceau 4R (E124); and allura red (E129). 

Similarly, for countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC, all food containing the Southampton six artificial colours must carry an on-pack warning statement. 

New studies around artificial colours

More recently, a report released by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) found that the consumption of synthetic food dyes can result in hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral problems in children. Furthermore, children vary in their sensitivity to synthetic food dyes. The report was the result of a two-year, multifaceted evaluation of seven synthetic food dyes, all of which are consumed in the US. It is yet to be determined if the results of the report will lead to any further regulation by the State of California. 

A delicious drink produced using natural fruits rather than artificial flavouring
Natural ingredients, flavours and colours are recommended for sweets and snacks

Natural alternatives

These days there is always a good natural match for artificial colours in confectionery products. For yellow and orange shades, there is turmeric and annatto, for pink and red, there are the options of well-known fruits and vegetables like red beet, black carrot, and sweet potato, while for blue, there is the increasingly popular spirulina.

Make your candy stand out naturally

With the demand for natural ingredients and transparency at an all-time high, along with the constant changes in the artificial regulatory landscape, now is the time to move to natural colours. As constant innovation is a must in today’s world, natural colours can be the differentiator manufacturers need to hit the sweet spot and take their candy to the next level and appeal to consumers everywhere. 


 Article written by SA Food Review

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