Natural tomato color booms as firms avoid synthetic

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Just a few months after its approval in the US, a natural tomato
food colorant claims to have attracted strong interest as food and
beverage manufacturers look to clean up their labels.

Israeli firm LycoRed said the introduction of its tomato lycopene product Tomat-O-Red marked the start of a "natural colorant revolution."

According to the company, primary reasons for the product's success include the fact that the firm was able to lower its price to a competitive level, and that the ingredient can be easily incorporated into formulations.

This, they say, gives them an edge over competitors as manufacturers increasingly move to natural ingredients in an effort to ward off any negative publicity associated with 'synthetic' ingredients.

"In consumer media the term 'synthetic' is getting bad press, and all this noise means retailers want out of the picture. Manufacturers want to avoid conflict with consumers and opinion leaders, they want clean labels so no one can blame them,"​ said LycoRed's marketing director Udi Alroy.

"And as the source has become more available and our prices more moderate, we feel we are in a good position to compete in the red colorant market,"​ he told FoodNavigator-USA.

In the past, the high price of lycopene has proved a barrier to the product's success. But the company said it was able to reformulate the ingredient in order to slash the price by about two thirds.

Whereas before the product was sold at around 3-4 cents per liter in Europe, it now costs around 1 cent per liter, said Alroy, adding that prices in the US are set in the same bracket.

In contrast, prices in Japan, which remains the main market for the ingredient after its introduction there in the late 1990s, remain high because the nation's specifications for the product are very narrow.

LycoRed says that in contrast to other natural colorants available on the market, Tomat-O-Red is ready-to use, and highly stable under a wide range of temperatures, and the color does not shift with changes in pH. The product is available as a liquid dispersion or a cold-water dispersible powder.

It can be used to color a variety of products, including beverages, dairy products, confectionery products and baked goods.

According to Alroy, the ingredient has received interest from a number of major players in the US, particularly from manufacturers of beverage products.

Indeed, LycoRed claims that the use of synthetic colorants in general appears to be declining in favor of natural colorants.

The market for natural and synthetic food colourings together is estimated at $1 billion. The natural food colorant market is estimated at $250 million, with red accounting for $30 to $40 million.

Tomat-O-Red, derived from tomato lycopene, claims to provide health advantages along with its function as a colorant. It is a powerful antioxidant.

The product is produced with lycopene extracted from a proprietary variety of non-GMO, lycopene-rich tomatoes.

"Colorants in competition with Tomat-O-Red are either synthetic or sourced from insects. Today, consumer interest in food additives that are natural and vegetarian is running high,"​ said LycoRed's president and chief executive officer Morris Zelkha.

The company, which hopes to become a major supplier in the global red colorant market, said that currently around half of the inquiries about its product come from the US.

In Europe, lycopene still falls under legislation for additives, and is known as food color E160d. This restricts the amount that can be added to foods.

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