All natural. Vegetarian. Gluten-free. Kosher. Halal. Non-GMO. The list of things that health-conscious consumers of nutraceuticals, probiotics and other dietary supplements are demanding continues to grow. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, brands that want to stand out need to cater to this desire for products that are as “natural” as possible. HPMC capsules made with natural colorants give manufacturers a way to differentiate their offerings while giving consumers the natural products they want.
Capsule colors can play a significant role in product differentiation
It’s hard to claim a product is “all natural” when the capsule is made with synthetic coloring. For this reason, many makers of “natural” supplements have been avoiding colorants altogether and choosing clear capsules instead. With this approach, however, manufacturers lose out on the ability to use colors to brand and differentiate their products.
A major benefit of natural colorants is that these pigments enable manufacturers to brand their capsules with attractive, easily identifiable colors while masking the look of the capsule’s ingredients all while enhancing the product’s “natural” claims.
From the branding perspective colored capsules can create more appealing-looking products and reinforce positive associations with the brand and brand value.
Colors can also serve to help remind consumers to consume the product. Consumers often create a strong association between a supplement’s color and the reason why they are taking that supplement. “Did I take my yellow pill today?” consumers might ask themselves, as they remind themselves of the health benefits that the yellow pill provides.
In addition to simply being “natural,” the use of natural pigments as the source of color in empty capsules has additional advantage as well. Brands may wish to educate their health-conscious and environmentally aware consumers that these natural pigments:
- Have a high nutritional value. Unlike synthetic colorants, many of the pigments used in natural colorants add to the nutritional value of the end product. Algae, for example, contains beta carotene, which is a good source of vitamin A.
- Are eco-friendly. The process of producing natural colorants from algae and other natural sources does not involve the use of harmful and/or polluting chemicals. In fact, the process usually produces effluents that are biodegradable and reusable as fodder, bioplastics and more.
- Are non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. Pigments derived from natural sources have been certified as safe for use as food colorants.
A wide range of colors are available
Just like HPMC capsules made with synthetic colorants, HPMC capsules made with natural colorants, i.e. colorants made from natural sources, are available in many standard colors.
For example, the following chart shows the standard colors in which CapsCanada’s HPMC capsules are available, and the source of the natural pigment that is used to create each.
When choosing a color for their capsules, manufacturers are advised to be aware that the color seen on computer screens is helpful for color selection but will not exactly match the color of the final capsules. To help envision exactly what a given color will look like on their actual capsules, manufacturers should insist that their capsule supplier prepares “film strips” for review. Film strips are color samples made from the actual HPMC material used to manufacture the capsules. Film strips are also helpful for testing a chosen color’s masking abilities.
That said, a characteristic of colorants made from natural ingredients is that the color is less stable due to the absence of synthetic additives and preservatives. Likewise,
the shades or hues of naturally - pigmented capsules can vary from batch to batch because of the variance in the shades or hues of the underlying ingredients.
Natural colorants are appropriate for most formulations
The performance of vegetarian HPMC capsules made with natural colorants is the same as of those made with synthetic colorants. For this reason, any formulation that is appropriate for a vegetarian HPMC capsule—including herbs, hygroscopic or moisture-sensitive formulations, liquids, gels and pastes—can be paired with a natural colorant. The capsule’s dissolution profile, ability to withstand variations in temperature and humidity, stability, masking properties, shelf life (about five years or more) and performance on filling machines will not be affected.
The only performance consideration to be aware of is in the color, not the capsule itself. Some natural colorants will fade when exposed to UV or IR light for periods of time, so brands are advised to take this into consideration when designing product packaging.
Regulations regarding “natural” claims vary by country. To cater to the health consciousness of their customers, makers of dietary supplements have been moving towards making various health claims about their products. The “clean label” movement is an excellent example of this. However, brands that want to make the use of natural colorants part of their “clean label” claims are advised to choose their natural colorants very carefully.
The reason for this is that, although natural colorants are all made from what most people would consider to be “natural” sources, from the regulatory standpoint there is no one definition of what constitutes a “natural colorant.” A colorant that the regulatory agency of one country considers “natural” may not be considered “natural” by the regulatory agency of another country.
Brands are therefore advised to ask their capsule manufacturers to provide the complete ingredient and ingredient source list for each colorant under consideration, so they can check these lists against the pharmacopeias of the countries in which the product will be sold. While some capsule manufacturers include this research as part of their standard technical assistance, others do not.
Not all capsule manufacturers will be able to offer natural colorants. There are many natural colorants that do not work well in capsule manufacturing. Even those that are appropriate for capsule manufacturing are far more difficult to work with than synthetic colorants. While top capsule manufacturers with cutting-edge research and development capabilities are able to bring HPMC capsules with natural colorants to the market, others will struggle to do so.