The definition of clean label has become increasingly blurred. In many instances, it has nothing to do with being simple, rather it’s about transparency. Other times, it’s sustainability. Traceability plays into the story, too.
The concept of clean label, however it is defined, remains a priority for food manufacturers who want to be competitive in today’s food space.
“There is a lot of clamor about clean label these days,” said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill, Minneapolis. “It has become a sweeping term encompassing a convergence of trends surrounding health, diet and sustainability of products that influence how some consumers think about and decide on the products they purchase.
“Because clean label has no agreed upon definition, it is difficult for manufacturers to determine how these various trends translate to the development of food and beverage products. The concept has gained so much relevance that many consumers are actually seeking products positioned as clean label without having a strong idea of what the term means.”
A recent Kerry survey found that while similarities in clean label opinions exist, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are multiple consumer segments, each having different nutritional and functional priorities that drive their purchase behavior.
Clean label is evolving to mean a “better food future,” Nair said.
“This can include organic, natural, free-from artificial ingredients and GMOs, low sugar, added functional ingredients and sustainable manufacturing,” she noted.
The Safe + Fair Food Co., Chicago, is all about non-G.M.O., clean label and allergy-friendly foods. The company offers snacks, desserts and meals, many of which are gluten-free.
“As a company, we believe we have a responsibility to the millions of families with food allergies to make the safe food choice the easy and affordable choice,” said Will Holsworth, chief executive officer.
Allergies are one example of why someone seeks clean label foods. Having a better understanding of clean label behavioral drivers may help formulators develop targeted solutions that align with different consumer priorities and need states.
“To some, clean label is about a simpler ingredient list,” said Vicky Fligel, senior product manager — beverages, Glanbia Nutritionals, Chicago. “The challenge is that most ingredients have a functional purpose so it’s not as easy to just take them out of a formulation.”
Pure Organic, Solana Beach, Calif., a manufacturer of fruit and nut bars, believed being organic was not enough for its target consumer. Earlier this year, the company reformulated its bars to contain no more than eight recognizable, kitchen cupboard ingredients, including dates, nuts, dried fruits and nut butters. All tapioca syrup, agave nectar and processed proteins were removed.
“The updated bars’ improved taste, better texture and clean ingredients make mindful eating easy for everyone,” said Veronica Bosgraaf, founder.
Exploring mindful eating
Mindful eating is more about what one is consciously avoiding putting into their body. Attributes not associated with clean label include chemical-sounding ingredients (55%), highly processed products (52 percent), and anything that contains artificial ingredients (45 percent), GMOs (44 percent) or artificial sweeteners (43 percent), according to Cargill research.
“Consumers check ingredient lists to verify claims on product packaging,” said Sharon Chittkusol, associate marketing manager, wholesome innovation — North America, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Illinois. “Ingredients gain acceptance when they are recognizable with names consumers can pronounce. But still, some natural ingredients that are unfamiliar or have scientific-sounding names can face rejection.”
So how does Impossible Burger make it on the menu of organic-centric restaurants? The flagship product from Impossible Foods, the Redwood City, California-based biotechnology company, features simple ingredients such as wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, but it also relies on genetically modified yeast, which produces heme, a protein naturally found in plants and animals that gives meat its flavor and aroma. The burger is served in hundreds of restaurants, including “a lot of restaurants that proudly label themselves organic,” said Patrick Brown, CEO. and founder, at the Future Food-Tech conference, held March 22-23 in San Francisco.
He said although the Impossible Burger uses genetic modification, the product and brand ethos align with the values of organic consumers.
“In our experience when we’re working with people who label their foods as organic … we fit in perfectly with that because of the integrity of what we’re doing, the fact that we’re dedicated to the health and nutrition of the consumer and we’re dedicated to preserving a healthy environment, which is completely consistent with the motives of most people who are choosing to buy organic products,” he said.
“Science may say we can, but society questions if we should,” said Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center for Food Integrity, Kansas City, at the 2018 Faegre Baker Daniels Food & Agribusiness National Conference on May 17 in Minneapolis.
Arnot explained how transparency has become a part of the clean label platform. Just because something is scientifically feasible does not mean consumers will accept it. If you come “clean” and explain the science, consumers might buy into it. It’s a case-by-case scenario.