Natural colours crucial in sports nutrition products


By Victor Foo, General Manager at GNT Singapore Pte Ltd
Monday, 01 April, 2019


Sports nutrition is growing at a faster rate globally than every other consumer health category and is forecast to record a CAGR of 7.9% through to 2021.1

But it is also highly competitive. As such, there are a number of key factors for product developers to consider, including format, active ingredients and taste. But just as important as these is appearance.

Into the mainstream

Experts say sports nutrition’s strong performance can be attributed to its move into the mainstream.Once a category shopped mainly by bodybuilders, its appeal now spans all age groups and levels of participation. In line with this trend, it has become an exciting category for innovation. In 2017, there were 9666 new products launched globally with sports nutrition claims, compared with 6392 in 2015 — an increase of 51%.3

With so many products to choose from, sports nutrition brands need to make sure their products are eye-catching on-shelf. Bold, attractive colours are a highly effective way to achieve stand-out. In fact, research has shown that colour is the first attribute considered by consumers and that it represents 75% of the product assessment process.4 However, there are certain important factors for manufacturers to consider.

In general, consumers are becoming more interested in the ingredients that go into making the food and beverage products they buy. Market analysts consistently highlight the great lengths many people will now go to in order to ensure they only buy products that meet their requirements in terms of naturalness and sustainability. Euromonitor International, for example, refers to these consumers as ‘sleuthy shoppers’ who are willing to investigate the history of a product to ensure it meets the standards that matter to them.5

To find out more about what consumers really want from natural food and beverage products, GNT commissioned market researcher TNS to conduct a survey of 5000 people across the world.6 When it came to judging naturalness, the most important factor was colour, with 79% of respondents stating that natural products must be made without artificial colourants.

In spite of this, it is tempting to think that sports nutrition users are not like other consumers and will be willing to sacrifice a clean label for performance. This might have been true a decade ago, but the mainstreaming of the category means that consumers’ preference for natural ingredients permeates all of their food and beverage choices.

In fact, recent surveys indicate that sports nutrition users all over the world value natural ingredients highly.7 Researchers asked consumers in several countries to rate how appealing they found the claim ‘Natural Colours’ when it came to buying sports nutrition products. A clear majority across major markets said they found this claim to be either appealing or very appealing. This indicates that the use of natural colours in sports nutrition products is not just a smart move, it is essential.

Extreme conditions

Having arrived at the decision to use natural colours, there are a number of technical factors to consider. This is particularly the case with sports nutrition products because they are often used under extreme conditions, such as hot weather and bright sunshine, which has consequences for product stability.

Conducting accelerated and/or real-time tests is therefore essential to establish how a colour will perform in a sports nutrition product that will be subject to harsh environments. These trials should be carried out on a realistic test product made using the same ingredients, recipe, manufacturing process and packaging as the product that is under development. It will require specialised equipment that stimulates storage and usage conditions using controlled parameters such as light, temperature and humidity.

The interactions between time, temperature and light that determine colour stability are complex, so when sourcing natural colours, it can be a good idea to work with a partner who will support you in finding the right solution for your product — one that will remain stable and keep it looking great throughout its shelf life. In fact, a good supplier will not just sell you the ingredient but will go the extra mile to offer colour matching, stability testing, regulatory support and upscaling.

Gentle processes

Natural colours are not all the same. The closest to nature are colouring foods, which are obtained exclusively from fruit, vegetables and edible plants using gentle, physical processes such as pressing, chopping, filtering and concentrating. This means sports nutrition companies can achieve ultimate clean label status for their products by using colouring foods such as EXBERRY® by GNT, which is a range comprising more than 400 natural shades.

Using our own innovative processes, we manufacture fruit and vegetable concentrates that impart almost any colour shade to foods and beverages and are ideally suited for industrial use. To ensure the highest level of quality and year-round availability, we control our entire supply chain. Production takes place exclusively in the German–Dutch border region — at facilities in Mierlo, Netherlands and Heinsberg, Germany. Cultivation and harvesting are monitored by GNT’s own agricultural engineers.

It’s a true farm-to-fork operation, and it provides all the reassurances you will need that the natural colours in your sports nutrition products offer active consumers the ultimate clean label experience.

For more information, click here.


  1. Euromonitor International / Nutritional Outlook (2017)
  2. Sports Nutrition Mainstreams: Active Nutrition – The new platform in the sports arena (August 2018) Innova Market Insights.
  3. Innova Market Insights
  4. Mintel, 2016
  5. Euromonitor International, Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2018: Emerging Forces Shaping Consumer Behaviour
  7. CG Gurus research 2017-18
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