Most food-supply chains have made clean label a priority, particularly when it comes to meat.

Despite the fact that clean label is an arbitrary term with few in the food-supply chain agreeing on any one exact definition, most players have made clean label a priority. Be it simple formulations, transparency on labels or avoiding specific categories of ingredients, clean label is driving innovation and reformulation.

This was very apparent at the 35th annual Natural Products Expo West that took place in early March in Anaheim, Calif. It’s the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event and the exhibitors are the forerunners in clean label.

One of the key macro trends identified at this year’s Expo was “transparency.” Consumers are increasingly demanding to know what is in their food and brands are responding by using technology and other innovations to provide greater transparency and traceability for their products.

Another trend was “ancient wisdom gets wiser.” Brands continue to innovate by producing simple, delicious products that take minimal processing to new levels and contain short lists of nutrient-dense ingredients.

Driving the business

Here’s what some Natural Products Expo West exhibitors had to say about how clean label drives their business.

“To us, a clean label means ingredients you can read, understand and feel good about purchasing,” said Suji Park, founder and CEO, FDMR Inc., Omaha, Neb., marketers of the heat-and-eat refrigerated Suji’s Korean Cuisine line. “We don’t use any artificial flavorings or preservatives. We take an all-natural and healthy approach to our food, because at the end of the day, it’s what we would want to eat. To stay clean label, we spend a lot of time sourcing the best ingredients for our brand.

“If you’re cooking any ethnic cuisine, there are ingredient sets that are specific to that cuisine,” Park said. “Korean food is all about bold flavors: umami, spice, acidity, sweetness; it encompasses a lot of the flavor spectrum.”

Suji’s Korean Cuisine achieves authentic ethnic flavors through the use of real food ingredients, not flavoring that mimics the taste.

Park and her culinary staff go out of their way to achieve these flavors through the use of real food ingredients, not by adding flavors that mimic the authentic ethnic tastes. For example, the savory beef bulgogi uses the same centuries-old technique of marinating lean meat in a blend of soy, fruit puree, vinegar and sesame oil to achieve a balanced sweet and tangy flavor. The ingredient statement indicates that pear puree and brown sugar are two of the key flavoring ingredients.

In products destined for the foodservice channel, where it may sit under heat lamps for an extended period of time, the company includes rosemary extracts in the sauce. “This is an all-natural ingredient that aids in the anti-oxidation of meat,” Park said. “It also has a very nice umami flavor that complements the entrée.”