Replacing Red 40 in Pet Food Applications

Requests for Clean Ingredient Colors for Pet Food Increasing

In the past year, we have seen pet brands mirror the human food industry’s shift to cleaner ingredients. According to data from Mintel, about 90% of new pet food products used natural color instead of artificial in 2017. A lot of this initial conversion activity in pet food started with caramel replacement projects, due to ongoing scrutiny and uncertainty of the common color. But lately, there has been increased interest in replacing artificial colors, especially Red 40. According to Sensient Consumer Research, over 40% of pet owners are concerned about the presence of artificial dyes like Red 40 in their furry family members’ food. Additionally, about 70% would be more inclined to purchase a pet food brand that has replaced synthetic colors with botanical alternatives.

Natural Color Challenges for Red Shades in Pet Kibble and Treats

Our R&D team has been addressing three main challenges in their development of natural red solutions for pet food applications.


Typically, pet food products are in the 5-7 pH range, and the heat associated with extrusion can cause the pH to rise even further. While nature provides us with a bounty of red anthocyanin options, under these pH conditions, these color sources will shift from red to purple.

#2 Consumer Perception of Naturalness

Red Iron Oxides would mitigate the pH challenge for pet food developers, but there are some drawbacks to Iron Oxide colorants. From a labeling perspective, they are typically not perceived as clean ingredients. In fact, only 25% of consumers consider Iron Oxides as “natural” color options according to Sensient Consumer research. This perception of unnaturalness may stem from the synthesization and reaction steps required to manufacture Iron Oxide colorants.

#3 The Maillard Reaction

Beet juice is a logical alternative to anthocyanin colors and provides clean label advantages unlike red Iron Oxides. However, the red shades of beet tend to brown under the harsh heat conditions of extrusion and high shear mixing due to the Maillard reaction. Pet developers tend to increase the usage rate of their beet colorant to offset the browning— however, this is a common misjudgment! Higher usage rates typically lead to other problems such as issues with texture and taste.

Red Hot Solutions for Pet Food Developers

Our R&D team has found success employing carmine across various pet food applications. From a performance standpoint, it has many of the same advantages of Red 40. Carmine provides very appealing red shades at different pH levels and stands up to high heat processing. Even though colors sourced from carmine are considered treif, the non-kosher status has only been an issue in human foods and less so in pet foods. Using carmine could be a very cost-effective way to replace Red 40 in kibble and treats.

While carmine is a good option, Sensient’s SupraRed™ technology is an even more ideal solution. Its prefix alludes to the many benefits of the plant-based innovation, including:

  • Stands up to heat processing of extrusion and high shear mixing
  • Can be labeled as vegetable juice or beet juice
  • Highly concentrated colorant = lower usage rates
  • Meets Kosher and Halal specifications
  • A key building block to create other shade possibilities for pet food

Interested in formulating with our Carmine colors or SupraRed vegetable juice?

Request samples for your bench work here.

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