Product reformulation efforts aimed at giving food and beverage products a clean label positioning have picked up in the past few months, with several leading consumer packaged goods companies announcing programs. Nestle SA, Vevey, Switzerland, for example, announced in April its plans to simplify the formulations of many of its ice creams.
A few weeks before Nestle’s announcement, Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minnesota, initiated a clean label program aimed at simplifying the ingredient statements on many of its products. The company said its line of Valley Fresh, Hormel Compleats and Hormel Always Tender lines already had been reformulated, and projects are currently under way to simplify the ingredient statements of Hormel chili, Dinty Moore stew and SPAM products.
“We know that a growing number of consumers are looking for products made with simple, familiar ingredients,” said Scott Aakre, vice president of corporate innovation and new product development at Hormel Foods.
As an example of the effort, Hormel Foods’ Valley Fresh chicken line now only contains chicken breast meat with rib meat, chicken broth, sea salt and rosemary extract.
“This initiative is in alignment with our company’s continuous improvement process and better positions our products with current consumer preferences,” said Kevin L. Myers, senior vice president of R&D with Hormel Foods.
The company said its food service division is focusing on clean labels as well. Such brands as Hormel Fire Braised meats, Hormel Natural Choice meats and Hormel Fuse burgers all have been reformulated and have no preservatives, artificial colors or nitrites added.
Myers said he views the clean label trend as being consumer driven. He cited a study published last year by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the consultancy Deloitte, that showed the attributes consumers value have shifted over time. Where once taste, price and convenience were the key purchasing drivers for consumers, the study found consumers also are weighing such attributes as health and wellness, safety, social impact and experience.
“We purchased Applegate Farms, which makes organic and natural products,” Myers said. “We’ve found with those products the consumer (demographic) interest is across all levels, whether it’s income or region of the country.”
Myers said Hormel’s program is not focused on the removal of one or two ingredients from its products.
“It’s a review of all of our product lines,” he said. “We are taking a look at our ingredients statements and asking if there are opportunities to shorten them or convert to ingredients that consumers may be more familiar with.”
Myers said collaboration with ingredient suppliers have been a key for the company’s reformulation successes.
“Every ingredient we have in our products has a purpose, whether it is related to flavor or function,” he said. “Replacing an ingredient means we have to match its role.”
Citing an example of a preservative the company used, Myers said by working with Hormel’s ingredients suppliers the company was able to replace a preservative made up of six components with one that only had two components.
The Schwan Food Co., Bloomington, Minnesota, a manufacturer of such brands as Freschetta, Mrs. Smith’s, Edwards and Pagoda, has undergone a similar transition to what Nestle is doing. Stacey Fowler, senior vice president of product innovation and new venture development, called the transition from ingredients with many components to those with fewer “decoupling.”
“Once you have the historical components coming together, and you take a fresh look at it, you start to see things,” she said. “Then you start thinking about decoupling ingredients that are not made to consumer desires.”
She added that often the end result is improved product quality.
“As we found with decoupling, less is more,” she said. “Whenever we have had the opportunity to change to a simpler flavor we found the product to be improved. It had a fresher, brighter flavor.”
Fowler added that collaboration with ingredient suppliers has been a key aspect for her company.
“We try to have strategic relationships, as we think about knowledge and the application of ingredients,” she said. “We make sure we are working with high quality suppliers who are advanced and have solutions for us. Sometimes they are not 1 for 1 and then we have to work the equation through the test and design process.”
Fowler called the current marketplace, where companies are reformulating products to appeal to the specific demands of consumers an “explosive, exciting time.”
“It should prove to be rewarding to those who step up and deliver on tailoring products to the consumer’s specific wants and needs,” she said. “It goes beyond food and simplicity. It’s about trust, transparency and everything you stand for.”
Food packaging and clean label
While many clean label efforts are focused on product reformulation, they also extend to packaging and materials used in the packaging process. In March, the Campbell Soup Co., Camden, New Jersey, said it is transitioning to using cans with no bisphenol A (BPA) lining by 2017.
The company began the initiative in March as it shipped 2 million cans with lining made from acrylic or polyester materials. Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle was the first variety to be produced in the new cans. In April, Campbell Soup plans to make an additional 10 million cans and continue rolling out the new lining across its US and Canadian portfolio.
“Our decision to speak publicly about our current timeline is driven by our belief that providing transparency into our business is critically important to the people who purchase our food and beverages,” said Mark Alexander, president of Americas Simple Meals & Beverages for Campbell Soup. “We have disclosed which of our products use BPA and our high-level plans to transition away from it on whatsinmyfood.com, but recognize we could go further. Our commitment to transparency is about being willing to have tough conversations; to being open to discussing the challenging issues facing our industry and our company; and talking about how we are addressing issues that consumers care about — even when we don’t have all the answers.”
The company first announced its decision to move away from BPA linings in February 2012 in response to consumer feedback. In the last four years, Campbell Soup said it tested hundreds of alternatives, wading through a number of technical challenges to find the right alternative linings. The process involved identifying lining that would ensure the safety of more than 600 different recipes, including the company’s tomato-based products, which have a natural acidity that may react with certain types of linings over time. The enormity of the task has prolonged the process, said Alexander.
Campbell Soup is not alone in removing BPA, either. Red Gold, Inc., Elwood, New Jersey, a manufacturer of tomato products, has transitioned to non-BPA-lined cans.
“No other canned tomato brand out there has this level of transparency on their labels,” said Colt Reichart, owner of Red Gold. “Rather than create something to meet other standards, we elevated our objectives to deliver information that’s top-of-mind among our consumers. We know our fellow food companies share that drive to exceed their customers expectations, and invite them to join us in this effort.”