D.D. Williamson "The Colour House" | July 2012
Color trends are tracked meticulously in fashions, hair styles, automobiles and home furnishings. Plum tints may be all the rage for designers one year, but all eyes are trained on corals the next.
Colors for the food industry are the lifeblood of D.D. Williamson, a firm headquartered in Louisville but a force worldwide in the development and marketing of naturally derived colors for food.
The company's main office is on Spring Street at the eastern end of the city's downtown business district. But its reach extends to every corner of the globe, as it manages facilities in Britain, Swaziland, China, Ireland, and Brazil. Other U.S. plants are in California and Wisconsin.
D.D. Williamson Vice President Campbell Barnum and Ted Nixon, Chairman and CEO, hosted a July 11 meeting of the Agribusiness Industry Network.
"People taste food, in part, with their eyes," Barnum told the group, explaining why colorings are used in a broad spectrum of edible products. The colors may be used to jazz up an item that is naturally lacking in color, he noted, or they may simply enhance natural colors or offset color lost during storage or processing.
Caramels constitute about 90 per cent of D.D. Williamson's sales, Barnum said. They are manufactured by heating various carbohydrates, predominately corn and sugar syrups but also cooked apples and onions.
The brown coloring is used in a broad range of products, including soft drinks, beer, baked goods, gravy and soy sauce, to name a few. The beverage industry is a major consumer of caramels, including such distilled spirits as rye whiskey and Canadian blends, but not Kentucky's signature alcoholic beverage. Bourbon gets its color from the charred interior of the white oak barrels where it is aged.
CEO Nixon said none of his firm's colorings are synthetics, as all are derived from natural sources. Those sources vary widely,from elderberries and turmeric, to black carrots, red cabbage, paprika, and annatto. The raw materials come from across the globe.
He noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration keeps a close regulatory rein on the use of colorings in food. Labeling requirements force food marketers to state that an item is artificially colored, even when the coloring is naturally derived, if the color is not a component of the food item itself.
Barnum noted that D.D. Williamson's colorings are sold to companies of all sizes, with bulk deliveries the norm to large beverage companies, while individual pails are shipped to local bakeries. In Kentucky, their customer list includes sellers of popcorn, soft drinks, frozen meals, sauces, cookies and cereal products.
The firm's facilities are staffed by around 190 employees worldwide, with 80 of these located at the Louisville plant and the headquarters. The plants typically house the full range of coloring production processes, including extraction, cooking, mixing, milling, evaporation, separation and filtration.
The firm traces its history to 1865 when it was founded in New York City. The Louisville plant was built in 1948 and the company's main office was moved there in 1969.
Gary Huddleston | AIN Chairman