KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Americans seeking convenience foods may reach for prepackaged deli meats, meat snacks or refrigerated dips and sauces. Clean label is another popular option, one that may bring shelf life issues when removing chemical-sounding preservatives from such convenience items.

Rosemary extracts, green tea extracts and ingredients containing vinegar or celery all are natural options for replacing those preservatives.

Prepackaged deli meat items often have a shelf life of 90 to 120 days, but 100 days of shelf life is less common for clean label products, said Amanda King, Ph.D., technical services manager, Kemin Food Technologies, Des Moines, Iowa. Meat snacks may have a shelf life of 9 to 12 months, she added.

“The functionalities required to meet shelf life for high-moisture deli meats and dried meat snacks can be quite different,” King said. “Deli meats face more challenges with microbial control, which is where buffered vinegar has been proven to provide the efficacy required in many applications. Dried meat snacks usually have more challenges with flavor oxidation over time. Rosemary/green tea is very effective to delay this oxidative rancidity, and acerola extract can increase retention of cured color during shelf life.”

In the natural preservatives area, Kemin offers Fortium RGT, a combination of rosemary and green tea extracts that provides antioxidant protection. Fortium R is a line of rosemary-based antioxidants, and GT-Fort is a line of oil-soluble green tea extracts.

“The market for natural meat and poultry products is strong and continuing to grow amidst clean label trends,” King said. “The influence today is on not only how to put cleaner words in an ingredient deck but to determine how those changes enable F.O.P. (front-of-pack) claims. Customers (of Kemin) continue to develop here, and we see not only new products but also conversion of legacy product lines to cleaner label forms. Some customers are adding or expanding organic product offerings as well.”

Consumers are seeking meat snacks that are organic, non-bioengineered/non-GMO or free from additives/preservatives, said David Charest, vice president, meat industry for Corbion, which has a US office in Lenexa, Kansas.

“As consumers increasingly demand more simplified ingredients, we have also seen a decrease in the use of potassium sorbate and sodium nitrite, two ingredients that are not typically considered label-friendly,” he said. “Instead, manufacturers are choosing to formulate their products with more clean label ingredients like celery powder, cultured dextrose and vinegar, which help extend shelf life and provide natural microbial protection.”

Corbion offers Verdad Opti Powder XM10, a blend of cultured sugars and vinegar that has been shown to work as a clean label alternative to potassium sorbate. It may be called “cultured sugar and vinegar” on ingredient lists.

“The powdered antimicrobial protects meat snacks from mold and other pathogens and makes handling, blending, shipping and storage easier,” Charest said.

Corbion also offers Verdad Ovvio 410 designed for natural preservation in low pH chilled foods like deli-style salads, dips and spreads. Produced through the fermentation of cane sugar combined with specialty vinegar, it is a clean label alternative to artificial additives like sorbates and benzoates.

“This solution is labeled ‘vinegar’ and ‘natural flavor,’ which are known and accepted by many consumers,” said Celeste Daugenbaugh, global marketing director for Corbion. “For other chilled RTE (ready-to-eat) foods, there are further Verdad ingredients with consumer-friendly labeling — vinegar, natural flavor plus vinegar or fermented (cane) sugar.”

Such convenience items may sell well at one specific type of retail outlet — convenience stores. In-store sales at US convenience stores increased 1.7 percent to $237 billion in 2017, according to the NACS, Alexandria, Virginia. Foodservice sales were $53.3 billion, accounting for 23 percent of in-store sales. Foodservice includes prepared foods as well as commissary foods and hot, cold and frozen dispensed beverages.