Shoppers around the globe are looking for clean labels in more of the food and beverage products they purchase, and companies such as Kerry are taking notice.
The Irish taste and nutrition business is using its insight into clean labels to help companies alter their ingredient lists while maintaining the flavor and shelf life important to the product. Kerry has been bulking up its clean label portfolio with aggressive M&A — including the recent purchase of two U.S. seasoning businesses — making the company a giant in the rapidly evolving space.
Soumya Nair, Kerry's director of marketing insights, told Food Dive how it helps food and beverage companies transition their products into clean label and what’s next for the movement. The interview, which was conducted through email, has been edited for clarity and brevity.
FOOD DIVE: Why is clean label important in the food and beverage industry?
SOUMYA NAIR: More and more consumers are starting to read the label (currently about 75% of consumers read the ingredient deck.) We only expect this number to rise, as consumers begin to learn more about ingredients and their ingredient curiosity rises. As brands, manufacturers and the media continue to educate consumers, relevance of clean label will grow exponentially.
Clean label is currently a catchall indicator of a perceived better quality and composition of food and beverages. The increasing significance for clean label, and the overall need for increased transparency, has provided a great platform for small and novel companies to level the playing field with bigger, well-established powerhouse companies. Consumers are seeking more than just a big brand, and (they) want a product of good value — inside and out. With this, competition in the market has been dramatically growing, indicating a need to either play in the clean label arena or risk being forgotten in the wake of new products.
"The increasing significance for clean label, and the overall need for increased transparency, has provided a great platform for small and novel companies to level the playing field with bigger, well-established powerhouse companies."
Director of marketing insights, Kerry
How do you help companies transition already established food and beverage products and reconfigure them into clean label?
NAIR: The industry has been aware of the rising relevance of clean label for many years now and several have successfully made the transition into clean or a cleaner label. For new companies that put forth innovative new products, they start off their journey with a cleaner label. However, it is harder for big-box manufacturers and retailers to clean up their label entirely. The transformation to clean label is a step-wise process, with many formulators starting their journey one ingredient at a time. Furthermore, identifying and adopting the right clean label strategy is an important first step. Kerry has helped several of our customers through this journey – to reformulate, or innovate.
What are the most common clean label ingredients that consumers and companies want?
NAIR: There are several platforms that tend to fall under clean label in the mind of consumers. Our research unraveled several ingredients consumers identified as unacceptable in clean label products such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors, artificial preservatives, to name a few. In the recent years, sugar reduction and sweetness have become strongly linked to the clean label and nutrition story. The presence and acceptance of certain ingredients varies by product category as well. For instance, the acceptance of sugar across various foods and beverages vary. While acceptable in ice creams, for instance, the presence of high level sugar in carbonated soft drinks has been a widely known point of contention.
First tier unacceptable ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, Datem, monosodium glutamate are clear negatives. Second tier ingredients will differentiate products and brands as clean, cleaner and cleanest. Achieving a truly clean label product with no artificial, simple, wholesome and recognizable ingredients will be the challenge the industry can achieve.
What are some of the challenges you face?
NAIR: The lack of a definition for clean label makes for a complex market. The evolving marketplace itself poses a significant challenge for all players to provide the right mix of solutions to the consumer.
How do you think the clean label environment is changing?
NAIR: Clean label is in a state of active transformation. There is no one state of identity for clean label, but several claims and certifications that fall under the topic. Top associations with clean label today are natural, GMO free, additives/preservatives free, organic, made with real ingredients, sustainably produced and minimally processed. More claims and signifiers for clean label exist, such as hormone free, antibiotic free, etc.
NAIR: In order to stay ahead, we need to ensure constant engagement with the consumer and understand how the meaning of clean label evolves and transforms. Evolving with the market and the consumer is vital. Looking both outward (market and consumers) and inward (our business) has helped us provide the right mix of clean label solutions to our customers.