Position On The Term ‘Natural Colours’

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Executive Summary

The food colour market faces a changing pattern of demand with more value growth in natural’ food colours at the expense of ‘artificial’ colours. Food manufacturers are replacing ‘artifical’ colours by more ‘natural’ colours and even scrutinizing the differences among the ‘natural’ colours. Terms such as ‘without artificial colour’ are prominently displayed on food packaging. But what are those marketing claims about? How do they translate into which colours were added to the finished foods making such claims? In order to provide clarity, NATCOL furnishes this position and guidance document which is a consensus reflection of the views of NATCOL member companies. NATCOL classifies food colours into four categories based on the key discriminators:

  • occurrence in nature,
  • source material used, and
  • manufacturing process employed.

Per category, NATCOL proposes ‘natural’ related voluntary labelling options such as “natural”, “natural origin” or “non-artificial”. The full classification of the colours and the labelling options are presented in annex I and II.

The technical classification (decision tree) that leads to the four colour categories and the related labelling scheme are provided in annex II. All information in this document, in particular summarised information as in annex I and II, must be considered in the context of the whole document and in particular the legal notice in section 5.


Purpose of the present NATCOL document is to classify food colours between the two poles of ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ by their varying degrees of perceived naturalness. The document is intended to serve as the basis and technical justification for the NATCOL food colours categorisation scheme in annex I and II. It reflects current thinking of NATCOL members on the naturalness of food colours in relation to voluntary label claims used on finished food labels. An attempt is made to propose marketing claims for food colours which under appropriate circumstances may be used in a way that is truthful and not misleading to consumers. The document has a clear focus to the European market and legal framework. Due to the lack of legal definitions the document might serve as important guidance of interpretation as it reflects the common opinion of the food colour industry represented in NATCOL.

NATCOL Position on the Term “Natural Colour” and the categorisation of Food Colours


Annex 1 : Categorisation of Food Colours


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