Ashley Phelps and her siblings were not allowed to eat anything unhealthy growing up. She would go to birthday parties but could never eat the cakes, owing to the fact that they contained artificial dyes.
The UCLA alumna is now the owner and founder of ColorKitchen, a brand that sells food coloring, sprinkles and cake mixes. Inspired by Phelps’ upbringing, the brand offers natural, gluten-free and plant-based products. Phelps struggled with food intolerances throughout her life, including a gluten allergy, and grew up with a mother who was a nutritionist. Both factors forced her to constantly be wary of any artificial colors and ingredients in the foods and products she consumed. Despite having no background in baking, she developed an interest in natural foods through her knowledge of potentially harmful ingredients. Through her company, Phelps said she hopes children no longer have to refrain from colorful, exciting foods like she once did.
“It’s kind of a celebration of, ‘Go ahead and you can have the colorful cakes that you want, there are different options, you don’t have to eat the stuff that makes you feel bad,’” Phelps said.
Phelps entered UCLA as an art student and began seeking natural alternatives after the chemicals in her paints bothered her. ColorKitchen evolved from her first company, Glob Colors, a line of natural children’s paints and art supplies. Phelps released an Easter egg dye kit while running Glob Colors, and the product eventually made its way to shelves at Whole Foods Market as well as other natural grocery stores, she said. When stores started inquiring if she had any natural products for baking, Phelps said she noticed a lack of natural products in the food industry, prompting the transition from Glob Colors to ColorKitchen three years ago.
“This is really a greater need, you know,” Phelps said. “Parents aren’t so worried about art supplies. They’re really worried about what kids are eating, and they’re really aware of what their child eats, how it affects them and their health.”
ColorKitchen’s public relations representative Melanie Frenkel, whose daughter also has various food intolerances, said Phelps understands how food allergies completely alter one’s lifestyle. When a person possesses allergies or sensitivities, they have to carefully read ingredient labels, change their eating habits and find alternatives for even simple products such as soaps and shampoos.
Frenkel said she found the brand while searching for dye-free options for her daughter who had an allergic reaction to the Red 40 dye in Tylenol at seven months old. A couple years later, Frenkel said she noticed her daughter would have allergic reactions to not only Red 40 but also every other artificial coloring – anything with a color and a number after it.
“When we went to birthday parties, she couldn’t have a cupcake or the cake, or when we went to go get ice cream, she couldn’t have pink ice cream,” Frenkel said. “I found ColorKitchen and it was the first time in her life that my daughter was able to eat a colored cupcake without having a reaction.”
Frenkel also said ColorKitchen’s products possess impressive flavors. When eating something with unnatural ingredients, such as a regular birthday cake, Frenkel said she can taste the artificial colors and flavors and large amounts of sugar.
With ColorKitchen, Frenkel found ingredients that not only taste more natural but also have the ability to create specific colors. Other brands that create natural coloring often sell liquid products, which, if red, turn brown when mixed. With ColorKitchen’s powder coloring, Frenkel said she can create the specific colors she wants for a frosting. Jasmine Rezonable, the founder and head pancake artist of Get Caked who is collaborating with Phelps to create a pancake-art kit, said her company focuses on the colors of the rainbow for pancake art. The brightness of Phelps’ food coloring is compatible with her vision, she said.
“(Phelps’) colors actually make it so it’s possible that anybody that wants to make pancake art can actually do it,” Rezonable said.
Phelps said the market for her products is growing: Brands such as Lucky Charms and Baskin-Robbins have switched to natural coloring. While she eventually hopes to add frosting to ColorKitchen’s inventory, Phelps’ current focus is supplying her products to ice cream and donut shops, she said, as people eat there on a regular basis, and lots of people are also seeking natural alternatives.
“A lot of people are really excited that they found it and thank me that they don’t have to restrict their child anymore,” Phelps said. “There’s a lot of moms out there, that, for food, the color in and of itself makes the food fun for kids.”