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Chr. Hansen Natural Colors unveils R&D center in France ahead of EQT acquisition

November 1, 2020
Food & Drink

Chr. Hansen Natural Colors has inaugurated an R&D center to ramp up pigment, formulation and application capabilities in Montpellier, France, and pioneer new natural color solutions. As a result of the new center, the supplier forecasts major growth for its color portfolio, particularly for green, blue and brown hues.

This move comes as Chr. Hansen Natural Colors awaits its acquisition next year – subject to regulatory clearance – by EQT, a global investment organization. The €800 million (US$943 million) deal is expected to complete in the first half of 2021.

“Unfortunately, we are in no position to lift the veil on our new solutions that are coming,” Luc Ganivet, vice president, head of innovation and application, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “But we can say that we work in a focused manner across the full value chain of our products.”

“More stable formulations and even new colors like blue and green will now be within our reach,” he continues. “This new center will be a magnet to the brightest talents in the industry and will help us to remain a leading force.”

The company anchors numerous teams in Montpellier with expertise in raw materials, extraction and pigments, breeding, formulation and biotechnologies.

“The market is looking for more solutions within blue, green and brown but also across the whole color portfolio. There is also a growing differentiated demand for solutions with specific ingredient labeling requirements,” says Ganivet.

“In recent years, interest in plant-based meat alternatives has exploded,” he continues. “We don’t always create a new color solution for each use-case, but we will always test our chosen solutions thoroughly in new applications before we recommend them.”

An “exciting food science hub”

In line with the inauguration, Chr. Hansen Natural Colors is ramping up its R&D capabilities in pigment, formulation and application expertise.

“Also, we are accelerating our breeding programs and new technologies to secure sustainable and high-quality natural sources,” adds Ganivet.

“Montpellier lies in the heart of an exciting food science hub, with several universities and institutions renowned for their profound scientific expertise.”

The company has entered the commercialization phases for several of its own proprietary seeds, while further looking into increasing the color content and plant characteristics of its home-grown crops.

“For the past decade, the company has invested in breeding activities for many of our raw materials. Traditional breeding takes time to secure a good selection process,” Ganivet highlights.

“It’s very promising in terms of sustainability, reducing the agricultural footprint. We see improved cost margins and the discovery of potential new shades. We are convinced of the innovation potential in our breeding platform and are investing further into it to bring our innovations to market as soon as possible.”

Over the past five years, Chr. Hansen Natural Colors has rolled out a mix of five to 10 new products annually, as well as a steady stream of customization projects.

“We have different innovation work streams such as new shades, including red Hansen Sweet Potato; existing shades with improved stability, such as our new blue for hard boiled candy; food ingredient solutions, like our minimally processed cold yellow from turmeric; and sustainable production processes,” details Ganivet.

Switching out synthetics

On the market, the most common innovation need is to secure high performing alternatives to artificial food dyes with natural solutions.

Among notable launches within its natural pigments portfolio, Chr. Hansen unveiled Colors DairyMax Warm Orange, which is formulated with beta-carotene for cheese as an alternative to the traditional annatto.

“While annatto is typically less expensive than beta-carotene, annatto colors the cheese and the whey, reducing the value of the whey,” he explains.

“Since whey is often a higher value revenue stream than the cheese, using beta-carotene to color the cheese is most often a sound cost-efficient solution.”

FruitMax Blue 1506 WS is a spirulina-based blue recently developed by the supplier specifically for hard candy. “This patent-pending solution protects the spirulina in the tough processing conditions of hard candy, for example, the sudden exposure to the very hot candy mass,” says Gavinet.

“Our Hansen sweet potato products are based on a unique sweet potato that delivers a bright red and is more stable to pH than other anthocyanins,” continues Ganivet.

“This is quite interesting for manufacturers looking to convert from carmine and who haven’t been satisfied with other anthocyanin solutions.”

Chr. Hansen’s CapColors range of encapsulated colors are also noted to be performing well on the market. “In general they make natural colors more stable, brighter and more cost efficient,” Ganivet highlights.

“We have many patents in this area and continue to innovate. Earlier this year, we released the CapColors Yellow 1003 WSP – a product well-suited for dragees.”

COVID-19 impact

The COVID-19 pandemic interfered with Chr. Hansen’s grand opening of the Montpellier site.

“We experienced, first of all, some short delays in the building planning in order to secure safety of the workers and our own employees, who were still working on the site,” says Ganivet.

“We addressed this by zoning the site and organizing shifts. We had originally planned to make a ‘traditional’ inauguration and grand opening event for our customers, but COVID-19 put a halt to that, hence this virtual opening.”

Natural Colors reports organic growth by 9 percent annually during the past five years up to 2018/19. The company generated sales of €224 million (US$260 million) in 2018/19.


By Benjamin Ferrer


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