IFT 2016 In Review

Sethness meets clean label needs with expanded non-GMO and Class 1 caramel colors

Source: iStock

After two years of tracking down documents, updating its supply chain and tweaking its formulas, Sethness Products Company claims “first-mover’s advantage” in the race to provide manufacturers with “cleaner” ingredients by securing Non-GMO Project Verification for a dozen of its caramel colors.

It also recently introduced a new class 1 powdered caramel color, with more class 1 options likely on the way as these also are perceived as “cleaner” than classes two, three and four options, Brian Sethness, sales and marketing manager for the company, told FoodNavigator-USA at IFT in Chicago.

“Nowadays everything is clean label, clean label, clean label,” and all about natural, familiar-sounding and minimally-processed ingredients, which Sethness can now better help manufacturers meet thanks to these two develops, he said.

He explained Sethness pursued Non-GMO Project verification for all its non-GMO caramel colors and caramelized sugar syrups because its clients – especially on the West Coast – “just kept asking if we had the butterfly,” which is the easily recognizable logo used by the Non-GMO Project.

Earlier this year, the company announced that 11 of its caramel colors were verified non-GMO, and as of Aug. 2 it added a twelfth caramel color. Sethness said the company is committed to verifying all of is non-GMO caramel colors and caramelized sugar syrups to meet consumer demand.

“On the West Coast, this is almost becoming the industry standard because they all want to use non-GMO. But in other places in the US, companies that have received samples of the non-GMO caramels are holding off on making changes to see what will happen in Vermont with the mandatory labeling of non-GMO ingredients,” he said.

While Vermont’s labeling law did go into effect, federal legislation now threatens to override it with a less arduous label, which could cause demand for the non-GMO caramels to “plateau,” Sethness acknowledged.

“Now, I just don’t think we will see the mass convergence to non-GMO because they are more expensive than regular caramel colors, and no one wants to pay more” if they don’t have to, he said.

However, he doesn’t think demand will completely peter out for non-GMO ingredients because of pressure from Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s for products to be non-GMO or else have less desirable or no shelf space.

More than non-GMO

The latest ingredient to join the list of non-GMO verified offerings from Sethness – Class 1 SB245 powdered caramel color – is unique in ways beyond its non-GMO status, Sethness said.

He said the ingredient stands out because it is significantly darker than traditional Class 1 powders, which typically have a red tone instead of an “appealing brown hue.” This means that manufacturers that previously were restricted to darker Class 2, 3 and 4 caramels because the needed a darker hue, now have a “cleaner label option,” he said. He explained that the Class 1 status means the ingredient does not include the less desirable ingredient ammonium bisulfate.

“We have never sent out so many samples,” as the company did when it first announced the availability of SB245 earlier this year, Sethness said. “It was really the right thing at the right time. First of all, it was non-GMO, it is a Class 1 and dark – so it hit those three criteria that everyone is looking for.”

Caramel color in general also is seeing a bit of an upward tick because it is a recognizable ingredient by consumers and doesn’t have the same bad reputation as some commonly used dyes, Sethness added.

Caramel color’s evolving market demand

While the bulk of the business for caramel color has traditionally been colas, Sethness said the market is expanding and evolving as consumers’ beverage choices shift.

He acknowledged that as sales of cola have slowly and steadily declined, so too has demand for caramel color for colas. However, he added, tea’s rising popularity as a perceived health drink is driving up caramel colors in that category.

Tea manufacturers often use caramel color to insure consistent appearance between batches, which could brew lighter or darker. Caramel color also adds some UV protection to RTD teas, which can help with shelf life and sales, Sethness explained.

Another emerging area for caramel color is hard sodas and RTD mixed alcoholic beverages, which are growing categories, Sethness said. In addition, he said craft distillers are popping up more frequently around the country and reaching out to Sethness to help color their finished product – creating a still small but potentially growing source of revenue for the company. 

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