CLEAN LABEL, PURE TASTE
Let us open this article with an elementary quiz. What is common amongst brands like Indian Sauce Company, Langooor, Sattviko, True Elements, The Whole truth foods and Oziva?
You guessed it right, all the above brands consciously use simple, pronounceable ingredients a.k.a clean label ingredients.
Although the definition of “clean label” varies depending on whom you ask, the clean label trend has its roots in a distrust of synthetic food ingredients with chemical sounding names that consumers do not understand.
Whether or not fears of these ingredients are justifiable, many manufacturers and restaurants are reformulating foods to clean up their labels. Even as they do so, the definition of clean label continues to evolve, now encompassing such far-reaching attributes as an ingredient’s traceability and a company’s ethics.
Clean label is a term used to describe food products that have a simple and transparent ingredient list. These products are made without artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners or preservatives. Clean label is becoming increasingly popular in the food industry, as consumers are seeking more natural and wholesome options.
Clean label products are also often associated with sustainability and ethical practices. This means that consumers are not only looking for natural ingredients, but also for products that are produced in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner.
However, creating clean label products can be challenging for food manufacturers. Removing artificial ingredients can affect the taste, texture and shelf-life of a product. This means that manufacturers need to find alternative ingredients or processing methods to maintain the quality and safety of the product.
Despite these challenges, clean label is here to stay. Consumers are increasingly looking for healthy, sustainable and ethically produced products, with clean label being one way for food manufacturers to meet these demands.
It is projected that the Global Sales of Clean Label Food Products would hit US$ 250 billion by 2026, while worldwide sales of clean label ingredients like natural colours and flavours, starch and sweeteners, fruit and vegetable ingredients, flours and others are expected to jump from US$ 38.8 billion in 2021 to US$ 64.1 billion in 2026 at a compounded annual growth rate of 6.8%, as predicted by Market Data Forecast.
HEALTH, A KEY PRIMARY DRIVER
In the United States of America, 63% of adults say the ingredients in a food or beverage have at least a moderate influence on what they buy and 64% say that they try to choose foods made with clean ingredients, according to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) June 2021 survey from “Chemical-sounding” to “Clean”: Consumer Perspectives on Food Ingredients.
Twenty percent of U.S. consumers also say they regularly buy foods and beverages, because they are advertised on the label as having clean ingredients, reports IFIC’s 2021 Food and Health Survey.
“Health is a top motivator for people who seek out clean ingredients. Of those who try to choose foods and beverages with clean ingredients, 25% do so to seek the health benefits from these foods and beverages,” says Megan Meyer, director of science communications at IFIC, citing IFIC’s June survey on clean food ingredients.
At the most basic level, many consumers are looking for foods and beverages with short lists of “natural” ingredients, whether they use or even know the term “clean label.” Sixty-nine percent of consumers say simple, recognizable ingredients influence their purchasing decisions and 66% say they are looking for labels with the shortest ingredients list, according to ADM Outside Voice Research.
“Early on, clean label focused on simplicity, with an eye toward recognizable ingredients and short, easy-to-understand ingredient lists,” says Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager at Cargill. “Today, however, the clean label trend has morphed to encompass much more, reflecting a shift by some consumers toward a lifestyle that supports healthier eating for both people and the planet. In a post-lockdown world, I think we’ll see consumers double down on this broader definition.”
These survey results highlight the increasing importance consumers place on recognizing and understanding the ingredients on a product’s label. Consumers typically trust ingredients that can be found in their home kitchens, such as milk, eggs and flour, whereas they often distrust ingredients that sound like they came from a chemistry lab, such as potassium sorbate and mono- and diglycerides—notwithstanding decades of safe use in foods. “Consumers are demanding cleaner labels, but even the consumers themselves do not understand exactly what that means,” says Jeff Hilton, Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of BrandHive, in a recent FoodNavigator-USA webinar. “So while the demand is being consumer-driven, it’s unclear what exactly consumers are looking for.”
TECTONIC SHIFT IN FOOD INGREDIENT SPACE
Practically, every ingredient supplier and manufacturer has invested in research to glean insights on consumers’ perceptions of clean label. Cargill, in partnership with Decision Analyst, conducted a proprietary survey of 302 U.S. grocery shoppers to learn more about which ingredients people wish to avoid. Although, more than half of the respondents had heard the term clean label, only one in 10 was confident of its meaning.
Ingredion conducted a global consumer insights study with 30,000 participants in 37 countries to understand the factors that influence consumer choice.“Globally, 82% of consumers find it important to recognize the ingredients in the foods and beverages they buy and for 81%, a short and simple ingredient list is important,” says Pat O’Brien, Ingredion Regional Platform Leader, Clean &Simple Ingredients, U.S./Canada.
Clean label is clearly an opportunity to educate consumers about the purpose of the ingredient and the story behind it. Ingredient awareness and the acceptability of ingredients can vary by application and region of the world. These two factors are of paramount importance when choosing the ingredients for a formulation or reformulation.
In March 2020, Ingredion Inc. introduced its first clean-label emulsifier, EVANESSE™ CB6194, to the United States and Canadian Markets. This emulsifier range caters to the rising demand for clean labels and acts as an apt solution for vegan products, as it is a vegan chickpea broth. EVANESSE™ CB6194 clean label emulsifier enhances the appeal of dressings, mayonnaises, cooking sauces and ready meals.
Similarly, owing to the trending organic food colourants with vibrant shades in the market, prominent players such as Diana Food has introduced a new line of organic colours derived from natural ingredients for food and beverage application in Europe.
In June 2020, Renmatix and Cargill signed a Joint Development Agreement to explore new technology (Plantrose process which uses water, heat and pressure) to make label-friendly, functional food ingredients from unused plant materials to meet consumer demand.
Cargill launched SimPure, waxy Tapioca, Potato and Corn Starches in October 2021, a clean-label bulking agent with a similar taste, texture and functionality as maltodextrin. These modified starches are ideal for culinary applications, such as frozen ready meals, canned soups, dairy and meat alternatives.
In March 2022, DSM launched DelvoGuard cultures, targeting producers looking for clean-label solutions, while also providing them with a solution to extend the shelf life of their dairy products, such as yogurt, fresh cheese and sour cream.
Corbion offers unique blends of cultured corn sugar and vinegar to preserve food and extend shelf life as alternatives to sorbates and nitrites typically used to preserve dairy and meat products. Synthetic conditioners and strengtheners such as azodicarbonamide and DATEM are being replaced with combinations of ascorbic acid and enzymes in baking applications.
Many food companies have also recognized the importance of the clean label trend and are reformulating their products to meet consumer demands.
Hydrocolloids: Gums and Pectins
Hydrocolloids are increasingly being used to provide texture and particle suspension, while helping products maintains a clean label, creating a steady growth in the global hydrocolloids market. One type of hydrocolloid, in particular, gums has become quite popular with food manufacturers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies for its thickening and stabilizing properties. However, while gums have been around for quite some time, there has been a shift toward those gums that are acceptable on the clean-label spectrum.
For instance, carrageenan gum is used as a thickener and emulsifier to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other processed foods. Its use has become controversial, though, as animal research indicates that it causes cancer in its non-food-grade form. As a result, manufacturers are substituting carrageenan with “cleaner” gums, such as gellan.
Other gums that are aiding the clean-label trend are acacia gum, due to its low sugar content and guar gum, which packs a hefty dose of fibre. And while the name may give consumers pause, xanthan gum is a safe and versatile stabilizer and thickener produced by fermenting plant-derived sugars.
Pectin, which is used primarily as a gelling agent in jellies and jams, is another type of hydrocolloid that is riding the clean-label trend. Its growth outlook is positive as it gains popularity in other applications.
Natural Mold Inhibitors
The Bakery Market is far from immune to the clean-label trend, so it’s no surprise that clean-label bakery is the Holy Grail. For instance, one ingredient — calcium propionate — does a great job at preserving freshness in bakery products. While finding an alternative has been challenging, bakery CPG companies have been working on developing clean-label bakery products.
One example is J&K Ingredients’ Bred-Mate and Cake-Mate. The mold inhibitors used in these products employ naturally fermented sorbic acid to keep cakes and bread fresh. Another formulator, Corbion replaced calcium propionate with its natural mold-inhibitor solution, Verdad MP100 — a combination of vinegar and natural flavours that matches the mold-inhibiting functionality and neutral flavour of calcium propionate.
As consumer preferences continue to evolve toward clean label, so does the hunt for alternatives to sugar. To succeed in the marketplace, sugar alternatives must deliver taste, natural purity and value (see Figure 9). While there are a number of all-natural sweeteners in the market ― from allulose to monk fruit ― stevia is one that delivers on those three key criteria.
Derived from stevia plants ― stevia is gaining in popularity given its affordability, improving flavour profile, lack of any health or safety concerns and advancements in stevia technology that could lead to explosive growth. And it can be found in numerous food and beverage products ranging from soda to yoghurt, either alone or in combination with other sweeteners such as Splenda or cane sugar.
As you read this, enzymes are at work managing every biochemical reaction in your body. And thanks to science, enzymes play a vital role in our food, from bread to dairy products to fruit juices, in order to improve texture, visual appeal, shelf life and healthiness.
One example of enzymes at work is lactose-free milk. During this process, the manufacturer adds small amounts of the enzyme lactase to the milk, which converts the lactose to galactose and glucose. As a result, the lactose-intolerant consumer does not need to produce the lactase enzyme to digest the milk. Instead, the intestinal tract is able to absorb the smaller sugars ― galactose and glucose ― directly into the bloodstream. Furthermore, because enzymes are not present in the end product, it contributes to the clean label of the product.
Just as with gums, food enzyme use has received a tremendous boost from the clean-label trend. The Food Enzymes Market is expected to grow at around 7-8% per year, fuelled not only by cleaner eating, but by demand for premium and healthy foods, such as gluten-free bread and increasing penetration of enzymes in food processing.
Fruit and Vegetable Pieces and Powders
Eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables may become easier for consumers, due to food technology that’s aligned with the clean-label trend. Processed fruit and vegetable pieces and powders give food and beverages the taste and feel of fruits and vegetables as well as provide attributes such as sweetness and colour. They come in myriad forms (e.g., crisps, granules, flakes) and undergo a wide range of manufacturing techniques (see Figure 10) depending on the product, cost and desired outcome.
Clean label demands that the grower, producer, supplier, processor, retailer and even the consumer double down on responsibly growing, producing, distributing, processing, marketing/educating and consuming without negatively affecting health or environment. This responsibility mantra includes responsibility to science and evidence.
Until a clear set of standards – and perhaps even guidance from the FDA and USDA – is in place the clean label term will probably have an impact in the marketplace that is similar to the ‘all natural’ term. In other words, while some consumers may be influenced by the clean label claim, the savvy and health-conscious consumer will still need to exercise due diligence when food shopping.
Minimally processed and socially responsible ingredients will become a non-negotiable imperative for food labels.
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Founder, Elevantus Food Consultants
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