The versatile avocado is getting another accolade added to its long list of health benefits, which, to date, has included improved digestion, decreased risk of depression and protection against cancer. But its latest benefit? Research shows that it also serves as a vibrant, all-natural food coloring.
The healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and nutrient-dense properties found in the avocado flesh are now giving way to the seed in the center of the creamy fruit thanks to Persea Naturals’ patent-pending AvoColor, which provides all-natural food colors in the red-orange-yellow spectrum for use in consumer food products.
Developed by Penn State Professor of Food Science, Greg Ziegler, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Food Science Joshua Lambert, in 2016, AvoColor addresses the consumer desire for food colorants created from natural materials.
“Right now, food manufacturers are disposing the seed of the avocado, which results in not only a lost opportunity cost, but also contributes to an inordinate amount of food waste in the environment,” says Ziegler. “Food manufacturers have searched for what has been to-date an elusive opportunity to provide an all-natural, viable and affordable food coloring source.”
Ziegler notes that food manufacturers reluctantly use synthetic or artificial colors because they are cheaper and more stable than natural-based food coloring currently on the market.
“AvoColor offers the food market an alternative for food coloring that provides a range of colors most desired by consumers at a price that food manufacturers would accept, enabling food production to become more versatile, economical, and environmentally beneficial,” he says. “We could not have done this without leveraging Penn State’s innovation pipeline, which encourages and helps drive technologies that improve our world.”
AvoColor’s entry into the natural color market is disruptive because it has some beneficial attributes of synthetics, but from a natural source. And, the technology used to extract the color from the avocado seed is not diverting food. Persea Naturals is using the avocado pit, which currently has no commercial value and turning it into a viable, usable source of color for food manufacturers.
The primary colors currently being utilized in the commercialization of AvoColor are red, orange and yellow because the majority of consumer foods are manufactured using those hues. Moreover, the popularity of those colors is the most appealing for the consumer market.
Persea Naturals is embarking on the regulatory approval process from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is projecting it will be able to begin marketing the product over the next 18-36 months. The company took second place in the 2016 Invent Penn State University Technology Tournament, where it was awarded $50,000 for ongoing start-up efforts.
In addition, the company has benefitted from funding support from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and recently announced that it was awarded a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA program offers competitively awarded grants to qualified small businesses to support high quality research related to important scientific problems and opportunities in agriculture that could lead to significant public benefits.
Ziegler, who serves as Persea Naturals’ co-founder and co-owner, was joined by CEO and co-owner, Robert Hicks, at 2018 Invent Penn State Venture and IP Conference, where they shared the AvoColor story. The event also featured more than 85 start-up ventures, including many from the Penn State community of innovators in high growth and emerging markets, including IT, Energy, Advanced Manufacturing, Biotechnology, Healthcare, B2B and B2C, among others.
The Venture & IP Conference is a signature program of the Invent Penn State initiative and is an example of Penn State University’s ongoing commitment to fulfilling its mission of research, education, and service and to have a positive impact on humanity.
Invent Penn State offers comprehensive resources to assist both entrepreneurs and investors available online, including Start-up Navigator, a showcase of Penn State legacy companies and ecosystem startups; IP Navigator, a full list of Penn State's top emerging technologies available for licensing, and Resource Navigator, a searchable inventory of entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem resources around Invent Penn State’s 21 innovation hubs across Pennsylvania.
About Invent Penn State
Invent Penn State is a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and industry and community collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and humankind. If you’d like to connect with the initiative, visit www.invent.psu.edu.
About Persea Naturals
Persea Naturals LLC, State College, Pa., was established in July of 2016 with the goal of commercializing AvoColor®, a proprietary, patent-pending food color additive. The product is a novel “natural” food color additive derived from avocado seeds. Persea Naturals is working towards FDA approval as a food color additive exempt from certification.
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