The value of natural colors has exceeded the value of artificial and synthetic colors on a global basis, according to joint research from Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research.

The shift happened for the first time in 2011 when global sales of natural colors reached $600 million, up 29% from 2007 and representing an annual growth rate of more than 7%. The share of natural varieties in the total food colors market has increased from 34% in 2007 to almost 39% in 2011. On the other hand, artificial and synthetic colors grew in value sales by less than 4% from 2007 to 2011. The segment is now at $570 million, or 37% of the overall market, a decline from 40% in 2007.

Overall, the global use of natural colors in new launches of foods and beverages outweighs the use of artificial and synthetic colors by 2 to 1. Europe has led the way in using natural colors as these countries used them in 85% of new product launches between 2009 and 2011.

“The drive for natural food formulations will endure in the global food and drink industry as consumers continue to seek simplicity and purity in food and drink ingredient lists,” says Rachel Wilson, principal technical advisor at Leatherhead Food Research. “The use of natural colors in new food and drink launches will thus continue to outpace artificial colors globally in the foreseeable future.”

The food industry represents a 70% share of the natural food colors market with soft drinks at 27% and alcoholic beverages at 3%.

The entire global market for food colors reached $1.55 billion in 2011, 13% growth from 2007