Evolving colour trends influenced by nostalgia, sustainability, and Gen Z: ‘Younger consumers are bold and loud, and this trickles into product development’

How are colour trends evolving and what factors are driving these changes? Which pigment is expected to make the biggest splash in 2024? And how can manufacturers best use colour with meaning? Ingredients suppliers GNT, DSM-Firmenich and ADM weigh in.

Colour trends evolving from 2023 to 2024

Reflecting on 2023, many colour trends were influenced by younger consumers (those born between 1997 and 2012). Better known as Generation Z, this demographic wants to have ‘healthy’ fun and are interested in holistic wellbeing. Gen Z also cares deeply for the environment.

Although not all food colour suppliers have finalised their trends research for 2024, it is expected some of last year’s trends will remain relevant.

In 2023, for example, ingredients supplier GNT centred its research around Gen Z and identified several themes. ‘Healthy Hedonism’ was all about finding balance between taking care of oneself and the health of the planet, while also indulging and enjoying, recalled Emma Leys, marketing communications specialist at GNT Group.

Colours associated with this theme were predominantly pastel shades, used for products claiming a ‘healthier’ benefit (for example low sugar, vegan, or low alcohol products).

Another theme – ‘Altered States’ – was focused on functional ingredients such as nootropics, Leys told FoodNavigator at the recent Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) event in Frankfurt, Germany. This theme also incorporated food and drinks associated with sleep benefits, with colours covering ‘cosmic shades’ for relaxation such as blues and purples.

‘Riotous joy’ was another theme that came out of GNT’s research. This was about being bold and loud, recalled Leys: ‘Clashing colours, textures, playing with sensory reveals.”

Some of these themes will continue to be relevant in 2024, suggested the marketing communications specialist: “They don’t just go away that quickly.” Sustainability, for example, is likely to continue to influence colour trends. The term ‘regeneration’ is one on GNT’s radar. For Leys, this means repurposing, reusing, upcycling side streams and reworking products with planetary health in mind.

Which shades are predicted to make a splash?

Other suppliers have already made their colour predictions for the year ahead.

DSM-Firmenich for example has announced its 12th​ annual flavour of the year: Peach+. The winner was inspired by Pantone’s 2024 colour of the year ’13-1023 Peach Fuzz’.

For DSM-Firmenich (the result of a recent merger​ between the two ingredients players) Peach+ represents an ‘invitation’ for its customers to innovate beyond the traditional, juicy peach concept, towards ‘softer, smoother, lighter, more refreshing’ elements.

“Our research reveals that peach has many multifaceted meanings, commented Jeffrey Richard Schmover, VP of Human Insights for Taste, Texture & Health at DSM-Firmenich. “And peach is somewhat unique in that it has many innate qualities that contrast, such as being both indulgent and pampering, but also refreshing and revitalising, and youthful, but nostalgic.”

The ‘most prevalent’ areas of growth for peach NPD include carbonated soft drinks, nectars, candies, ready-to-drink teas, teas, flavoured alcoholic drinks, yoghurt, dairy drinks, juices containing peach, and fruit preserves, according to the ingredients supplier. Other areas showing ‘promise for growth’ include savoury opportunities, such as side dishes, noodles, processed cheeses and protein analogues.

DSM-Firmenich’s annual colour of the years is Peach+, inspired by Pantone’s 2024 colour of the year Peach Fuzz. Image source: DSM-Firmenich

Just as nostalgia is relevant to DSM-Firmenich’s colour outlook for 2024, so too is nostalgia on GNT’s radar. “With all the stresses of the cost-of-living crisis and pandemic, people are turning back to older recipes, but putting a twist on them,” explained GNT’s Leys. “[Nostalgic] colours then go nicely with nostalgic flavours.”

But it’s not all about looking back to the past for GNT. The supplier is continuously looking at new raw materials to develop brand-new colours, we were told. Last year, the company developed a paprika oil to deliver bright orange hues to food and beverage products. “It’s really good for fat coatings, chocolate, snacks – it’s much brighter than our current paprika product,” explained Leys.

‘Breaking boundaries’ in colour

ADM is another supplier that has released its colour predictions for 2024. The company has identified several trends expected to make a splash this year, including one it has coined ‘Breaking Boundaries of Taste and Colour’.

For the ingredients supplier, this theme is about embracing tastes and colours previously thought to be ‘unconventional’. Social media is a key driver of the trend, suggested ADM: “With viral social media driven by shock and awe, food and beverage experiences can answer consumers’ need for vibrant sensorial experiences through flavours and colours that create a sensational response.”

Colour inspirations include bold reds, vibrant pinks, rich purples, refined blues, saturated yellows and earthy greens.

cosmic avid_creative

For flavours such as ‘lava’, ‘cosmic’ or ‘space’, it is often the colour – and not the flavour – that is delivering the concept, GNT’s Emma Leys tells FoodNavigator. GettyImages/avid_creative

In another way, the concept of breaking boundaries with colour is already being explored by food and beverage manufacturers. Colour and flavour needn’t even align, explained GNT’s Leys. For flavours such as ‘lava’ or ‘cosmic’ or ‘space’, it is the colour – and not the flavour – that is delivering the concept, we were told. Flavour wise, consumers don’t know what they’re going to get. “The colour can really lead.”

These kinds of concept colours work well on social media, which again feeds into focus on Gen Z, a demographic Leys described as ‘bold and loud’. “[They] challenge the industry and share so much online. If they like something they’ll promote it online, if they don’t, then the same thing…And this does trickle into product development.”