Those of us a certain age can remember when Breyer’s advertised its ice cream by highlighting its short list of simple ingredients. That list was contrasted with the long, complex names of ingredients included in rival ice cream brands, as shown in this vintage commercial:
Breyer’s was on to something there, but it was about 30 years ahead of its time. The “clean label” movement has only taken off in the past couple years, as customers demand simpler ingredients derived from natural sources and an assurance that what they are about the consume does not contain unwanted ingredients. Food and beverage manufacturers are working to comply, going the less is more route for the labels on their packages, as well as for the products they contain.
Keeping it clean
Mathieu Dondain, director of marketing and communication at Nexira explains this phenomenon: “The clean-label trend can be defined as consumer demand for products free of complicated and chemical-sounding additives, made with short and understandable ingredients lists and minimal processing."
Absence makes customers’ hearts grow fonder
The term “natural” on food packages has been the cause of numerous law suits, where consumers argue that implications inherent in such labels are misleading. In truth though, the U.S. has no clear-cut definition for natural. As Datamonitor’s innovation insights director Tom Vierhile says, “natural” is a “squishy” description.
Now, customers are looking for more concrete descriptions to cover what they don’t want in their food, like an assurance of no GMO ingredients and that no sugar, color, or preservatives were added. An increasingly popular label is “gluten-free,” which an appear on all kinds of foods and drinks--event those naturally devoid gluten in the first place.
Not all sweeteners are the same
Signs of added sugar, to be highlighted in the new FDA food labels, can make consumers reconsider a product, especially if it lays claim to health benefits. “Though product formulators may not be trying to achieve a low-calorie product, there are still limits to how many grams of sugar are acceptable to wellness consumers,” says Bob Verdi, business director, health and wellness, Virginia Dare.
Many customers also have an aversion to high fructose corn syrup, a fact that producers have taken advantage of by boasting its absence in products free from the sweetener. However, some sugar substitutes, including aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame potassium, can scare customers off because they do not meet their expectations for simple ingredients. That’s why food and beverage producers are looking for ways to use stevia, a plant-based sweetener as a solution to the need for sweetness without excess calories or artificial ingredients.
Beverage producers face a particular challenge in achieving clean label appeal as they were the ones who tended to use a number of complicated-sounding ingredients, like brominated vegetable oil (BVO), sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and glycerol ester of wood rosin (ester gum) to achieve the desired balance between flavor and density in drinks. Instead of those long names, the labels will not be showing a variety of gums, like gum acacia, which is also called gum arabic, and ester gum.
Beverage producers are also turning to chia and quinoa powders to be used as beverage stabilizers. Russ Hazen, PhD, raw materials and innovations specialist for DSM’s Fortitech Premixes group, notes that there’s an added health benefit to those sources in that they also provide protein and fiber.
New challenges and opportunities
Food and beverage manufacturers are working on cleaning up their act as far as food labels go. Some companies have capitalized on this trend, offering consultations on natural ingredients that can take the place of undesirable ones people prefer not to see on food packages. One such company is Carolina Ingredients, which touts its “highly trained R&D department that can take your current blend and match it while making it clean label.” Another is Emsland Group, offering starches derived from plants like potatoes and peas for food bases that meet clean label requirements.
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