The use of natural colours in food and drink is soaring in popularity and has overtaken artificial/synthetic colours globally for the first time, new research has revealed.

Global sales of natural colours were an estimated $600m in 2011 - up by almost 29% from 2007 – as consumers demand simplicity and purity in food and drink ingredients lists, a study by Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research found.

Annual growth of natural colourings exceeded 7%, while the natural varieties share of the total food colours market rose from 34% in 2007 to nearly 39% in 2011.

Meanwhile, the artificial/synthetic segment – now worth an estimated $570m – saw its total market share fall from 40% in 2007 to 37% in 2011, while value sales rose by less than 4% between 2007 and 2011.

The confectionery, soft drinks, bakery and dessert and ice cream categories remained some of the major users of synthetic/artificial colours – especially in the Americas where legislation has not encouraged their removal to the same extent as in Europe, the research said.

It concluded that these categories would move to the use of more natural colours, especially in the more consumer sensitive area of children’s products in the future.

Overall, the global market for food colours was worth an estimated $1.55bn in 2011 up 13% from 2007. However, average annual growth levels were between 2% and 3% - down from the 4%-5% experienced throughout most of the previous decade, the report said.

“Much of this slowdown in growth can be attributed to the global economic recession and its subsequent effect on consumer expenditure on many sectors of the global food and drinks industry, as well as the continued decline in demand for artificial/synthetic food colourings,” Chris Brockman, Mintel senior global food and drink analyst said.

Rachel Wilson, principal technical advisor at Leatherhead Food Research added: “The use of natural colours in new food and drink launches will thus continue to outpace artificial colours globally in the foreseeable future,” she added.