Natural Colors for Performance Drinks

Naturalness Trends in Beverage Space

“Better-for-you” products and those supporting holistic health and wellbeing goals are popular with consumers seeking to clean up their diet in recent years. Brands across the beverage industry are innovating and renovating to meet rising consumer demands for natural ingredients with new launches in energy drinks, sports drinks, flavored waters, functional beverages, and more.

Sports drink launches claiming “no artificial colors” were twice as common in 2022 vs 2019.

Mintel 2023

Color Adds Value to Performance Beverages

Even though Mintel data shows that less than 13% of all new flavored water launches in the past three years contain color, consumer spending and consumer research data both indicate that shoppers prefer colorful beverages.

More than half of the top 50 Flavored Water SKUs in the United States contain color.

IRI 2023

Of the top 50 Flavored Water SKUs in the United States, those with color had 29% higher dollar sales than those that are colorless in the last three months (IRI 2023). This aligns with Sensient’s extensive proprietary research, which has shown consistently that optimized, flavor-appropriate color increases purchase intent and consumer flavor perception in beverages.

Ensuring Color Stability in Performance Beverages

Acid Content

Although many natural colors like anthocyanins thrive in low pH conditions, an extremely acidic environment may negatively impact natural color performance. Selecting stable colors is key to success.


Beverages often have clear glass or plastic packaging, and in that case light-stable colors will be necessary. Sensient’s color team works regularly with our customers on accelerated and real-time light stability testing.

Ingredient Interaction

Functional ingredients like vitamins, minerals, and caffeine may interact with natural color ingredients to impact performance. If multiple emulsions are in place within the same formula (such as flavor, cloud, and color emulsions), it can improve stability to work with Sensient’s team to combine these into a single system.

Sip the Rainbow—Naturally!

Naturalness is important to consumers. 21% of US adults who are non-users of sports/performance drinks skip these beverages because they have too many artificial ingredients. (Mintel 2021)

These solutions can help you get started formulating with nature’s rainbow:

Bold reds and juicy pinks is possible with cost-effective anthocyanins like black carrot and purple sweet potato. Carmine and cochineal add extremely stable alternativesto fruit and vegetable juices. Sensient’s proprietary Watermelon-Rose is an acid-stable lycopene-based solution for unique coral hues.

Sample Natural Reds and Pinks for Performance Beverages

For energetic or immunity-signaling oranges and yellows, color experts look to the carotenoid family. Beta carotene and turmeric offer a range of bright, saturated colors in the citrus shade family. Since these colors are naturally oil soluble, Sensient’s Advanced Emulsion Technology (AET™) can be used to stabilize the emulsions and help them blend seamlessly into water-based formulas. Pure-S™ Paprika is a purified version of paprika that removes any unfavorable flavor off-notes from the spice source while maintaining a visually stunning vibrancy.

Sample Natural Oranges and Yellows for Performance Beverages

Although sky blues remain difficult to achieve with natural solutions in high-water applications, Sensient’s R&D team is constantly working to expand the natural rainbow. For rich purples at low pHs and brilliant dark blues at higher pH levels, FDA-approved butterfly pea flower extract is a uniquely successful solution. Warmer shades of purple can be achieved with blends and other anthocyanins.

Sample Natural Blues and Purples for Performance Beverages

Caramel offers developers a wide range of browns from light tan to dark chocolate shades. However, for brands seeking to replace or avoid caramel due to California’s Prop 65 labeling requirements, Sienna™ is a natural brown solution with fruit juice labeling. Developers can reach darker shades of brown with Sienna™ blends.

Sample Natural Browns for Performance Beverages

Beverages wanting a cloud, which can contribute to a perceived juice content or connect with a target flavor
visual, can use Sensient’s Avalanche™ Nebula, a clean-label whitening and cloud solution designed for beverage
applications. Sensient also offers other natural clouding solutions to help achieve a cloudy appearance.

Sample Natural Cloud for Performance Beverages

You may also be interested in this webinar highlighting solutions across the rainbow and problem-solving in the lab for performance drinks. If you want to jump straight into a conversation with my team, reach out to schedule a personalized consultation. To refresh your benchtop library or try a specific solution, request a sample!
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