Peru aims to lead the world’s natural color market
The sausages, meats, cheeses, jellies and even drinks that you consume contain, often, colorants that seek to improve the visual appeal of the product. Although the usual is to find that the colorants, used for this purpose, are of synthetic origin, more and more companies in the world that decide to use colorants of natural origin.
“In Peru, several types of these natural colorants are produced,” explains Elmer Lava, coordinator of the department of diverse manufactures of Promperú. “We produce the 95% of the cochineal carmine [in the world] for example,” he mentioned.
However, the cochineal carmine is followed by at least four more natural colorants in the race to position themselves in the food industry of the planet. If this is achieved, Peru could become the main supplier of natural colorants in the world, in a market that moves approximately USD $ 2,900 million annually. Even when the picture looks promising, its success abroad will depend on a number of factors.
The high concentration of carminic acid in cochineal has allowed Peru to have a privileged place abroad. Proof of this is the growth, in the last three years, of exports of this dye, which in 2015 amounted to a total of US $ 76.7 million. However, the problem with carmine is the instability in its prices that could scare off some interested industrial sectors.
“Before, carmine was used in the cosmetic sector, but this changed after a big price increase in 1985. From US $ 20 per kilo rose to US $ 130, which drove entrepreneurs away from this sector”, explains Daniel Nakamura, president of the Committee of Extracts and Natural Dyes of ÁDEX.
On the other hand, for Carlos Sarmiento, general manager of Pronex, an exporter of cochineal carmine, the problem has to do with the little stability in the cultivation of tunales, cochineal habitat.
“During 2013 and 2014, many farmers preferred to grow quinoa. Now that the prices have gone up for the cochineal they want to cultivate it again, but that delays, “says the executive.
The solution for ÁDEX is to diversify the uses of the production of the prickly pear with the aim of making it a culture of constant presence. For this, it is necessary to achieve improvements in the fruit to make it more attractive for the foreign market. The objective for ÁDEX is that, once these crops are stabilized, and with this the prices of cochineal, the entrance to other sectors such as cosmetics is easier.
Although Peruvian cochineal enjoys a quality that has made it almost unique in the international market, the same does not occur with other colorants such as achiote and its derivatives. The reason? The concentration given by the orange hue is not as consistent as that of achiote from other countries.
“While the seed of our achiote has a concentration of bixin of 3%, that of the Brazilian seed has a 6%, which makes it more demanded,” says Daniel Nakamura.
To overcome this problem, the exporters of natural colorants grouped in ÁDEX have been developing an agreement with the National Institute of Agrarian Innovation (INIA) to obtain financing and improve achiote seed.
“At first, the idea was to import the seed, but the process was very complicated. The objective now is to send our technicians to do an internship at Embrapa (institute similar to INIA). With this knowledge, the next step is the genetic improvement of the seed that would involve an investment of US $ 3 million, “explains Nakamura.
For its part, the company Imbarex plans the planting of seeds brought not only from Brazil but from Africa, in order to improve the quality. In this sense, Bartolomé de las Casas, general manager of the company, has already sown, new bixin fields of the highest quality. “This will allow us to be more competitive,” he says.
However, the low quality of the Peruvian achiote also poses other problems, because what is paid per kilo is half of what could be paid taking as reference other prices in the international market. A reality that discourages farmers, who opt for other more profitable crops such as coffee.
Despite these difficulties, Peru is the third supplier of achiote in the world, after Brazil and Africa seen as a block. But while Brazil allocates a large part of its production to its domestic market, in Africa planting takes place at times of the year when it is not cultivated in Peru.
“If we can improve the quality of the seed, the exports of annatto would easily double and we would leave behind our main competitors in Africa such as Ivory Coast and Kenya,” says Sarmiento.
Currently, achiote is used to dye foods such as cheeses, margarines and butter. Of all the dyes, most Peruvian businessmen bet that this will be the fastest growing in the coming years.
Another factor to be taken into account is the need to establish food protocols for those inputs that are struggling to gain a place in the international market, such as huito, fruit of the Peruvian jungle that hopes to be included in the international food code this year, which would allow its use as a food additive.
To this end, since 2011 the General Directorate of Environmental Health (Digesa) has been developing a scientific study to demonstrate its safety. According to the director of this entity, Mónica Saavedra, the entry of this fruit into the food code could take place this year.
Foreseeing these conditions, there are already several companies that have been developing studies for the export of huito as a blue natural colorant.
From the perspective of Bartolomé de las Casas de Imbarex, this dye can be used in sports drinks, a growing sector worldwide that is circumscribed to the healthy wave. But for Carlos Sarmiento de Pronex, achieving the position of the huito will not be easy, because they have spirulina, an extract of seaweed, as its strongest competitor.
To position these products, last year Promperú launched a video advertising the benefits of natural dyes. According to the state agency, it was in clear response to another video from the Israeli company LycoRed, producer of dyes made from tomatoes, which discredited the origin of the cochineal carmine.
“The video was made jointly with ÁDEX and seeks to inform companies and consumers about the origin of natural colorants, which follow all the processes that guarantee the healthiness of the product”, explains Elmer Lava, an official of Prom-Peru, who anticipates that the audiovisual piece will be projected also in a series of fairs that are planned for this year.
Undoubtedly, the trend towards the consumption of natural products is growing worldwide. Last year the giant Kraft announced that it would stop using synthetic dyes to start using bixin in its cheeses. Other companies that have followed this path are the Danish Hansen and the European Dannon. The future looks promising for this business.