Expecting more from clean label: New technologies and sensory appeal key themes for future

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30 Oct 2018 --- The strengthening of clean labels is one issue that shows no signs of abating as industry caters to the latest consumer trends and developments. As clean label has become mainstream, it now tends to go beyond eliminating artificial ingredients to include meeting consumer desires for sustainability, plant-based foods, low-sugar, low-calorie options and ingredients known to promote good health.

Demand for clean label is fueled by increased awareness among consumers wanting to take more responsibility for their health as well as having a greater conscience about issues like climate change and its effect on people and the planet. 

In short, consumers are expecting more from a clean label. There is major growth in nutritionals as the specific content of ingredients is much more prominent alongside key factors like the social and environmental impact which are also commanding more value. What sort of nutritional content does this ingredient have? And how can it benefit health? These are the types of questions companies focus on when researching and developing new products. 

There are many ways to define clean label and therefore many solutions and opportunities for innovation among food ingredients manufacturers.

Supplier view: DuPont Health & Nutrition
Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst, Gerard Lynch, R&D Leader, Systems & Texturants, Emulsifiers & Sweeteners at DuPont Health & Nutrition, explains that the company’s ingredients are already used in many applications that consumers consider clean label. He also points out that there are tremendous opportunities to innovate – creating ingredients that are even more sustainable, using a larger part of the natural raw materials, while providing health benefits to consumers. 

“Committing to this innovation is critical for our ongoing success and growth,” Lynch says. “We’ll also continue our investment in consumer insights and research to understand how the trend moves and what consumers continue to look for – there is no one right answer for clean label. Especially as we move to meet needs of the many cultures throughout Europe and other regions, we want to continue to understand consumer perception of ingredients and how we can continue to be an asset for customers in delivering what they desire – no matter how complex.”

Recently, DuPont Nutrition & Health announced plans for a clean label hub in Denmark to be launched early next year to help customers continue to navigate clean label trends proactively and sustainably. The hub will bring products to market quickly and help grow the current project and focus on both ingredient and process development.

“It will extend our team of creative scientists and engineers looking at this space to identify ways to convert sustainable and natural raw materials into clean label solutions that meet consumer demands for simplicity and authenticity, all without compromising taste, texture and nutritional qualities,” Lynch adds. 

“The hub is also supported by hundreds of technical minds throughout our technology network that collaborate to find ways to deliver across our ingredients, across food applications, and across regions.”  

What might consumers push for in terms of clean label? As consumers continue to push for more information about how a particular ingredient can benefit them and for details on impact to people and the planet throughout a food’s lifecycle, there also remains a need for consumer education about particular ingredients, according to Lynch.

“In their desire to see ingredients they recognize, consumers may not still fully realize what ingredients do in food. Replacing certain ingredients, even those proven to be safe, may sacrifice some elements of the eating experience consumers love – great taste, texture, ability to stay fresh for longer – while also increasing the costs of favorite foods,” he says. 

“There is a lot of misperception about ingredients that audiences not suited to educate about food science promulgate based on hidden agendas, further confusing consumers. When food manufacturers react to that noise and remove ingredients, rather than reinforcing their proven benefits, it leads to more confusion. And we’ve seen instances of brand owners needing to backtrack on ‘clean label’ formulations because other ingredients simply didn’t work.”

“This dilutes the credibility of the food brand and creates wasted effort solving a problem that wasn’t real to begin with. Explaining the benefits (if any) of new foods, rather than just promoting the removal of certain ingredients, would be helpful. Is the life cycle of the product better now? Has the consumer experience improved? If we can continue to focus on improving the cost, nutrition, and sustainability of products, we will make real strides for the food supply.”

Click to Enlarge
Clean label is more than a passing consumer trend;
it is an established movement that is increasing in importance
and is very much here to stay, according to Ingredion.

Supplier view: Ingredion 
Mona Schmitz-Hübsch, Senior Marketing Manager Wholesome, Nutrition and Sweetness EMEA, Ingredion explains how, since identifying, the clean label movement in its infancy over 20 years ago, the company has launched a significant number of clean label ingredients for a broad range of applications across categories including dairy, bakery, beverages and savory. This is in response to the increasingly health-conscious consumer seeking out more natural, additive-free food and beverages.  

“Our proprietary consumer research over the last fifteen years consistently tells us that consumers across many European countries are scrutinizing food labels and even swapping brands in favor of cleaner labels,” Schmitz-Hübsch tells FoodIngredientsFirst

“Clean label is more than a passing consumer trend; it is an established movement that is increasing in importance and is very much here to stay. The future direction of the clean label movement is guided by ever-evolving consumer demands, needs and trends. Therefore, as long as consumers continue on their quest for ‘cleaner’ food and beverages free from chemicals and additive with honest, transparent ingredient information on product packaging, so will the clean label movement.”

“Clean label also encompasses many other more niche consumer demands which are expected to gather in pace such as a preference for ‘authentic’ foods which feel home-made and contain ‘store-cupboard’ ingredients. This is in line with younger consumers, such as millennials, feeling fatigue with perfect, unrealistic images of the food and drinks they see on social media.”

Clean label supports increasing trust between consumers and manufacturers as it promotes transparency and therefore may drive more consumers to research and understand the origin of ingredients, according to Schmitz-Hübsch. In turn, sustainability agendas may be positively impacted through the increased take-up of more “natural” and less-processed ingredients. 

Simplifying the label
Clean label is understood in different ways by consumers and the industry; most noticeably when it comes to terminology, explains Schmitz-Hübsch.

“It’s unlikely that the average consumer would have an awareness of the phrase ‘clean label’ as a trend that affects and guides the industry. What they certainly do know however is what the term ‘clean label’ encompasses and what they want from the products they purchase.”

Consumers seek recognizable ingredients on labels and have a strong awareness of terms such as ‘no preservatives/additives,’ ‘E number-free, ‘natural’ or ‘all-natural’ and are more concerned with what their food contains, rather than what has been removed from it, she believes.

And in the future, Ingredion believes consumers will lean further towards simplicity and transparency and away from exaggerated descriptions, which will, in turn, lead to further simplifications of labels. And new technologies will also be a big influence.

In May, Ingredion research found that the food industry can no longer afford to ignore the influence of technology on consumer buying habits as "webrooming" becomes widespread. The practice of scrutinizing ingredient lists and verifying nutritional claims online before buying in-store – also known as webrooming – is increasingly common, it found. 

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Authenticity is another key consumer
trend that will influence the industry.

“Ongoing consumer adoption of new technologies will also influence the future of clean label and the food industry. Our research shows that shoppers are increasingly ‘webrooming,’ or checking product information on-the-spot, empowering them with the knowledge to make better-informed decisions at the point of purchase,” Schmitz-Hübsch adds.

“Consumers are also on an ongoing quest to optimize and control their diets, which may lead to DNA profiling becoming more prevalent and eventually routine. Because of this, we could see increasing numbers of people cutting gluten and lactose from their diets and adding fiber, vitamins, and protein.”

Authenticity is another key consumer trend that will influence the industry. This is the idea that food shouldn’t appear perfect and that products manufactured on a larger scale can still retain an individual, homemade feel, according to Schmitz-Hübsch. This will result in higher demand for foods that appear less uniform, are locally sourced, sustainable and contain trusted ingredients, she says.

“To achieve these qualities, attention to sensory appeal, including texture, will be vital for the industry to adopt. Offering a finely-tuned sensory experience – such as the creaminess of mayonnaise or the smell of a bakery product – is an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate products and offer consumers memorable and immersive experiences.”

Regulation
To date, regulatory authorities have not provided regulation or guidance regarding what clean label means. Food regulations state the overriding principle that food information must not mislead, particularly in relation to the characteristics of food, nature, identity, composition, and provenance, and food products must not be labeled in a manner that is false or deceptive, Schmitz-Hübsch notes.

“We have now adapted our clean label definition to reflect changes in consumer views and the additional items they now associate with clean label; only made with ingredients that are recognized and accepted by consumers; free of ingredients that are artificial-sounding or misleading; non-GMO ingredients and listings that are consistent with the consumer’s understanding of on-pack claims,” Schmitz-Hübsch concludes. 

By Gaynor Selby

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