Many consumers don’t know a lot about specific food ingredients. Even so, consumer perceptions are changing formulations, from the removal of brominated vegetable oil (EU) in popular soft drinks to the removal of azodicarbonamide (EU) in bread production.
The NPD Group’s 28th Annual Eating Patterns in America presented data which shows that in the last 10 years fruit consumption has been on the rise, while fruit juice consumption is declining, indicating that consumers are choosing to eat foods in their natural state. Clean labels can be seen as a way for consumers to see that a product is minimally processed or to enable “clean eating” of foods in their natural state.
What does all of this mean for the food developer?
It appears that consumers want to have their minimal ingredient line, nutritionally sound, convenient, long lasting, and affordable “cake,” and eat it too. The challenge to food developers is identifying what is truly important to their customers and then working to deliver a high quality product that consumers will buy.
And, while you may find that your consumer does not require “clean ingredients” today, a proactive look at your ingredient lines will give a chance to establish action plans in case your product is thrust into the spotlight for a negatively perceived ingredient. In February, Food Business News reported on a CNN article that listed ingredients consumers should avoid, including “yellow no. 5, butylated hydroxyanisole, propyl gallate, sodium nitrite, tert-butylhydroquinone, silicon dioxide, and triacetin.”
As the definition of “clean labels” is not government regulated, let’s examine some potential consumer definitions:
- Recognizable ingredient names
- Less “chemical sounding” ingredient names (cultured dextrose (EU) vs. potassium sorbate (EU))
- Shorter ingredient lines
- Appear to indicate minimally processed (avoid words like modified, hydrolyzed, etc which indicate extra processing)
- “Real” not artificial
- Not artificially preserved and/or minimally preserved
- Wholesome and homemade, like what they could produce in their kitchen
- Locally sourced or fresh
- Without negatives (lower in salt or fat)
- With positives (whole foods, fiber)
- GMO-free or organic
Achieving Clean Labels
To re-formulate or innovate around “clean labels,” first there needs to be a definition established with your consumers regarding your product or product category.
You may find that your consumer perceives “clean label” as limited sodium or saturated fat, thus giving the product a “clean” nutritional profile. Alternatively, it could mean limiting the ingredient line to a handful of easy to recognize ingredients. It could be a combination of chemical-sounding sugar replacement ingredients that lead to a health claim like less sugar, or it could be shades in between.
Once consumer expectations are established, developers can work with vendors to find solutions. These may be simple substitutions or require extensive reformulation to achieve the desired product quality.
Formula Hurdles and Solutions
However, if the only benefit is a clean ingredient line, and the food doesn’t meet customer expectations for flavor, texture, performance over shelf life, and price, foods probably won’t sell. Additionally, with the increased focus on obesity, the nutrition facts panel may be just as important as the ingredient line.
Some of the more natural sounding food additives can be more costly and less effective than their chemical counterparts, meaning you’ll need to use more or a combination of ingredients to achieve the desired results. This can result in a higher product cost, potentially shortening of shelf life, and longer ingredient lines.
Identify other aspects of the product cost that can be adjusted to accommodate ingredient changes and assess if consumers will mind a few extra ingredients, or an upcharge.
2. Product Quality
- Food Safety: Any change to preservation systems should be tested for micro stability.
- Production: As processing aids, like dough conditioners (EU), are changed, line speeds may need to slow to achieve consistent production.
- Shelf Life: As changes are made to formula antioxidants, natural colors or natural flavors, shelf life studies will need to be reconsidered. To enable product quality if launching before shelf life is complete, developers can potentially rely on protective packaging, refrigerated shipment, or shortened shelf life requirements.
3. Find meaningful ways to talk about the benefits.
Look to specifics when it comes to talking about clean ingredient lines. For example, note the number of ingredients or talk about specific ingredients on pack. Lawsuits around the broad claim “all natural,” a claim which isn’t defined by the FDA, are increasing. Food Business News reported that while the number of “all natural” claim launches has remained the same in the US, the number of lawsuits against food and beverage companies rose to 102 in 2012 from 19 in 2008.
Potential Ingredient Substitutions
- Texturizers: Move from modified food starch to functional native starch (EU).
- Natural Antioxidants (EU): Move from EDTA to rosemary (EU), oregano (EU) or green tea (EU) extracts.
- Natural Preservatives (EU): Move from potassium sorbate (EU) to cultured dextrose (EU).
- Flavors: Move from artificial flavors (EU) and MSG to natural flavors (EU) and natural flavor enhancers (EU).
- Colors: Move from artificial colors to natural colors (EU).
- Emulsifiers: Move from mono (EU) and diglycerides (EU), DATEM (EU) or polysorbates (EU) to lecithins (EU) or gums (EU).
Below are some ingredient suggestions to get you started on your quest for clean labels.
Fluid Lecithin from Cargill Food Ingredients
Yellow Color Compound, Natural from A.M. Todd Botanical Therapeutics
OptiSol® 1050 from Glanbia Nutritionals
Gum Arabic from CONNOIls
Tapioca Syrup (DE 69) from Dutch Organic International Trade
GRINDSTED® Pectin YF 357 (414412) from Danisco USA
Freedom™ 808 from Loders Croklaan
OptiSol® 1050 from Glanbia Nutritionals
HOMECRAFT® GOLD from Ingredion
Yeast Extract LBI Q35 from Lallemand Human Nutrition
Carotenal Solution #2 from DSM Nutritional Products, Inc.
Cargill® Purified Sea Salt Untreated from Cargill Food Ingredients
NPD Group 28th Annual Report; Eating Patterns in America
Article 5/2/14; Coco Cola to remove B.V.O. from beverages
Article 3/5/2014; Clean Label- The shopper will define it with dollars
Article March 2014- Crystal Clean: Designing Clean-Label Beverages
Food Product Design Digital Issue March 2014; Keeping it Clean
Article 2/16/14; The Next Ingredients You Should be Concerned About
Article 11/26/13; Cleaning up Labels Tops R&D Agendas in 2014
Article 11/8/13; Clean Label isn’t as Big as Industry Thinks Says DuPont
Food Product Design Digital Issue October 2013; Chemical Connotations
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