Shattering Preconceptions: What Kids And Moms Really Think About Colour In Candy

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Christiane Lippert, Head of Marketing (Food) at Lycored, explores the clear benefits of using natural colours in confectionery products.


Growing Concerns About Artificial Colours

Recent years have seen huge growth in global demand for natural colours and flavours in food, particularly in the Asia-Pacific countries. According to Nielsen, 80 percent of consumers in the region are concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients—higher than the worldwide average of 75 percent.

The desire to avoid artificial ingredients has largely been driven by concerns about health, particularly that of children. Some artificial colours have been linked with health scares. In 2016 for example, the ‘Seeing Red’ report from the US Centre for Science in the Public Interest raised public awareness of issues with artificial reds. And in Europe, the “Southampton Six” study, which found a possible link between some artificial colours and increased hyperactivity, led to major changes in food labelling (McCann, 2007). Consumers may not be fully aware of the details of such studies, but they have certainly got the message that artificial colours are associated with health risks.

The arguments for switching from artificial to natural colours are obvious in most food sectors. But how strong is demand for naturality in candy markets, where the opinion of kids matters, and health is perhaps less likely to be a driver of product choice? At Lycored, we set out to understand the way kids and their parents respond to natural and artificial colours in candy—and the impact it has on liking and purchasing decisions.


Natural V Artificial Colours In Candy—What Kids And Their Parents Think

Our expert researchers conducted real-time, face-to-face, 30-minute interviews with ten children (aged between 5 and 13, with an even gender mix) and their parents.

All were regular purchasers and consumers of gummy candy and / or fortified vitamin gummies. Each parent-child pair was sent an unbranded bag of gummies collared naturally with carotenoid-derived colours. They were also given another bag of gummies made by the same manufacturer but coloured artificially. The gummies with the naturally derived colours were fortified with Vitamin C, which subjected them to extra stress. The interview participants were asked to visually examine the two bags of candy and answer questions about them.


For Kids, Candy Is Candy

All the participants were able to distinguish between the naturally coloured candies and the artificial ones (although in some cases this required careful scrutiny). The children tended to prefer the brighter, artificial colours to the more muted natural ones. However, crucially, they were excited about all of them. When asked if they would be willing to eat the naturally coloured gummy candy, they answered yes with enthusiasm: one typical response was:

“Of course, it’s candy! They are both candy—I would eat both of them!” In other words, for kids candy is candy, and natural colours definitely do not appear to be a “deal-breaker”.


Parents See The Benefits Of Natural And Clean Label

Although the parents interviewed did not actively seek out candy with natural ingredients, most were aware that artificial colouring is not a healthy option for their children. They said the naturally coloured candy appeared to contain less sugar and assumed it would be lower in other unattractive ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Meanwhile, they expected the artificially coloured candy to contain more additives, more chemicals and more artificial sweeteners, as well as more sugar. Even some of the children surmised that the brighter coloured gummies would contain more artificial food colouring.

Most of the parents said they viewed candy as a treat and made allowances for sugar content and artificial features. However, most also said they read nutrition labels on confectionery products. Primary items of interest or concern were sugar content, serving size, artificial dyes, high-fructose corn syrup (which was called out by many without prompting), artificial sweeteners ending with “ol” such as xylitol and sorbitol, calories and carbohydrates. Some recounted negative effects of artificial colours on children’s health, and one mother attributed childhood obesity to unnatural additives in candy.

As well as concerns about known “baddies”, there was a desire to avoid unrecognisable or unpronounceable ingredients. When asked what would deter them from buying a product, one said “whether there is tonnes of artificial colouring garbage”. Others mentioned “a long list of things I don’t recognise” and “really long words that I don’t know what it is!”


Natural Colours Perform Under Pressure

But how do natural colours cope with the rigors of confectionery production? Researchers also set out to test the performance of carotenoid-derived colours in vitamin-enriched gummies. They carried out accelerated and real-time shelf life stability tests on gummies coloured with six different carotenoid-derived shades, comparing them with samples produced by the same manufacturer but coloured artificially.  The natural colours all remained true to fruit in their natural colour hues, and their stability was strong under intense light conditions and similar to that of the synthetic colours.  In other words, it is definitely possible to make the switch from artificial to natural without sacrificing stability.


When All Factors Are Equal, The Preference Is For Natural

The consumer research revealed that taste is king, with flavour expectations the most important driver of liking and re-purchase. There was also a strong association with the colour of the product and perceptions about the strength of flavour.

However, it is worth nothing that most participants did not understand that the colouring of the candies was not the source of their flavour. When all other factors were equal, and they knew they would not have to sacrifice taste, the parents voiced a clear preference for natural colours, saying they would prefer to feed their kids healthy options. One said: “I would prefer to go the natural ingredient way, my only concern would be how it would taste.”

Once they understood that the taste would be the same—and their children would eat them—the parents said they would buy candy coloured naturally. As one put it: “I would probably choose [the naturally coloured candy] especially if the tastes are similar. I would rather have the natural than the artificial with the red dyes and different things like that.”

Even some of the children said they might opt for the natural options. “It looks like there’s more dye in it”, one said of the artificially coloured product. “That might also not be a good thing, so I might choose [the naturally coloured candy].”

Furthermore, some of the parents said they would be willing to pay a little more for naturally coloured products, as long as the taste was not compromised. Comments included “If I can find a natural one that has less extra stuff in it that they’ll still eat, then I’ll buy that, even if it’s extra [additional cost].”


Conclusion: Potential For Consumer Education

Confectionery is different from most other categories. Parents view it as a treat and health concerns are rarely the most important driver of purchase choice. Nevertheless, as this consumer research shows, when taste is removed from the equation, naturality and clean label become more important. There are, therefore, clear benefits (and no downside in terms of performance) for confectionery manufacturers who use natural colorants.