Converting to natural colors | Feb 02. 2022 - 2:39PM

Make meaty pet treats stand out with colors from nature

Pet parents do not want to compromise on quality

Our expert

Rikke Sakstrup Frandsen

Industry Business Manager: Plant Based

People love their pets. So much so, most pets are regarded as part of the family and giving them a treat is an integral part of daily life. In fact, in 2020, American pet parents alone spent about 2.94 billion US dollars on dog treats for their four-legged friends.¹

Traditionally treats used to be mainly bone or fish-shaped biscuits made of wheat and baked at high temperatures with no nutritional value. Over the years, the treat category has evolved, now reflected in a mixed bag of formulations and functions in different formats, such as crunchy biscuits, soft semi-moist bites, dental health bone chews and freeze-dried or dehydrated beef jerky. Designed to be highly attractive, most treats contain a high amount of palatants and flavor. Chicken and beef are the two most popular flavors for dog treats followed by lamb, turkey and duck².

Whilst flavor plays a significant role in pets’ acceptance of a product, the key to getting pet parents to buy a specific product lies in its visual appeal. Color has a significant impact on product perception and pet parents often base their first-time purchases on what they see with their eyes. When it comes to which brand to choose, pet parents care. The IRI consumer study from 2021 revealed the most important purchasing factors. Over half (51%) of pet owners responded that meeting health and nutrition standards is important, followed by pet’s taste or preference at 46%. Price was third at 42%, followed by high quality (39%). Then came ingredient-related factors, such as non-inclusion of specific types of ingredients (grains, fillers, artificial ingredients) or the reverse, inclusion of desired ingredients; both were chosen by 32% of respondents. The preferred brand showed up at 26%.³

In short, pet parents do not want to compromise on quality, and they want to know the provenance of the ingredients used in a particular product. Similar, to what they purchase for their own diet, they are looking for sustainable products that contribute to a healthy and well-balanced diet, and the more natural and recognizable ingredients, free of artificial ingredients, such as synthetic colors and flavors.

That’s why, when developing a mouthwatering treat for pets with that juicy tender turkey or tasty beef bacon flavor, it’s important to really think about product formulation and labeling. To meet pet parent demands’, it’s recommended to use natural colors to achieve the same color but with a much cleaner label.  It’s also a great way to differentiate from other products competing on the busy supermarket shelves.

Red – a popular color that packs a meat punch

Adding red color to pet treats enhances that fresh and meaty feel for the pet parent. NPD launches with red color pigments added counts for almost half (46%) of total colored pet treats launched past 4 years in US⁴.

There are a variety of natural red colors to choose from and we recommend different color sources depending on the application. Our naturally sourced colors are specifically designed to maintain stability through the hard production process with parameters such as high heat and pressure from extrusion.

Carmine, one of the most cost-efficient natural alternatives to artificial dye FD&C Red 40, is highly heat and extrusion-stable, providing appealing red shades in most pet applications. As it’s derived from an insect, it's widely accepted in pet food, which we expect to continue, especially as it follows the latest trends of insect-based proteins and ingredients making their way into more mainstream foods.

While carmine is a good option, vegetable-based red alternatives are also available. Our very own Hansen sweet potato™ is stable to heat processing of extrusion and high-shear-mixing. Depending on where you are in the world, it can be labeled as vegetable juice or sweet potato concentrate. We recommend our newest addition to the range – a highly concentrated ambient stable powder allowing you to use lower usage rates.

Pet parents just want what’s best for their companions, so why not make your product stand out with brilliant visual appeal using colors from natural sources. Our technical experts are ready to assist you.


1. Dog treat sales in the U.S. 2020 | Statista, February 2021

2 Innova Insight, 2021

3. IRI, CONSUMER CONNECT: PET PRODUCTS SHOPPING SNAPSHOT, Joan Driggs Vice President, Content and Thought Leadership, August 2021

4. Innova Database, 2021

"When developing a mouthwatering treat for pets with that juicy tender turkey or tasty beef bacon flavor, it’s important to really think about product formulation and labelling"