Getting Squeaky Clean!
So, it finally happened: I have finally turned into one of those people. I mean not that it’s a bad thing, but this is certainly something I never thought I would pay much attention to 10 years ago. You know what I am talking about silly…scouting for clean and natural labels. Yesterday, as I rolled my rickety cart down the aisle just promising to quickly pick up a few necessities, I leaned in for my traditional French vanilla creamer when my focus was captured by this creamer dressed in a simply designed package with promises of being all-natural. Looking at the ingredients, I was in awe. Only 4 ingredients, and I know what they are? As I compared the two, I had this unshakable thought that I should be kinder to my body and more mindful of my health. A thought that I am sure is going to guide my future purchases, and a thought I am sure increasingly many others are having.
I am sure it’s no new news to you that we are in the dawn of a health & moral conscious era; no doubtedly, an era that a couple of decades ago we would have chuckled at and wrote off as being “hippie-ish. Now, more emphasis is being placed on healthy ingredients, sourcing, and green, sustainable, and humane business practices. In fact, according to Clean Label Insights, “58% of US consumers usually or always read the ingredient list,” and during a 2 wave research test, 38% of US consumers in the first wave said they would even consider switching from their usual brand for a minimally processed claim, which increased to 41% during the second wave.
Many labels, about 25% out in the US market, are boasting various health claims. Of course, the most common being organic and all-natural, which have been seen for quite some time now, but the most recent development in the last 5 years has been the even further stretch to clean and transparent labels. Stop! Wait a minute. What in the heck is a clean label, and really, what is the difference between all-natural and organic anyways?
Clean! What does that even mean?
Truth be told, no government body, like the FDA, has established a definition yet because the term “clean label” can not be protected due to it being a non-registrable trademark, but a few rock star groups, like the Nutritional Products Association and MMR Worldwide, are collectively working towards legislation and certification programs. Interestingly enough, this clean label movement was actually a push from consumers, so because of the lack of concrete legislative standards, many companies are opting to use a set of common consumer expectations to guide them through there clean label adventure. So, here is the collectively accepted definition the industry has drummed up based off of consumer perception and expectation research.
Defined: Clean Label is labeling food in a clear, clean and understand way and eliminating any “unintelligible jargon.” Clean label should have no additives/preservatives, be natural and minimally processed, and, in a simpler sense, be “real ingredients consumers could find in their kitchens” (Clean Label Insight; Food Navigator; Clean Label; National Products Insider).
Making It Official: Organic vs. Natural vs. Clean Label
We’ve all seen it! Those call outs on the package that are just screaming at us…ALL-NATURAL…CERTIFIED ORGANIC…! What is the difference? Basically, organic is a set of standards regulated by a government body, where as, all-natural is more of a set of semi-loose standards that are decided by the company and industry.
Here’s a little quick and dirty list of the differences courtesy of Organic Is Worth It.
Where does clean label stand with these two? It actually doesn’t. Clean label is not necessarily another set of standards, but rather, it is the packaging result of organic and natural products. Here’s a look at a couple companies that are doing it.
Well They’re Doing It
At the February 2015 Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference, a time for companies to shine with investors, many big time companies were turning their attention to talks of clean intentions. For example, Kendal Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills, announced to the audience, “People want natural foods with simpler ingredients. They are avoiding things like gluten, simple carbs, and artificial ingredients. They want more protein, more fiber, more whole grain. More natural and organic products. And consumers everywhere are snacking more than ever. All of these changes create tremendous opportunity for General Mills.” During the conference others shared the same sentiment, including Kellogg, who described their new product line, Origins, as “real food prepared simply” (Food Business).
Ingredients Giving You Grief
If you are a company that has or is considering organic/all-natural and clean label products or you’re a consumer and wondering why your fave brands are or aren’t moving towards this trend, here is a bit of insight on ingredients, pros, cons and quick fixes. If you are considering an all-natural or clean label, know that you are on shaky ground. With out specific, governing guidelines, it is all about the consumer’s knowledge, as well as, how they perceives ingredients.
For example, people may perceive Locust Bean Gum as artificial and not buy the product even though it is 100% natural (Food Navigator). For some products, this perception has crushed sales. Some companies have created their own lists of acceptable ingredients, including ingredients that may sound “unnatural”; Whole Foods, for instance, bans 82 ingredients, Kroger bans 101, and Safeway bans 130 (Open Nature Brand) (Food Navigator). Here are some ingredients for comparison.
Quick Tip: To avoid misuse while still keeping your label simple to read and to break down the perceptions of certain ingredients, do what Campbell’s is doing. Spell it out. Hard to understand or easily misinterpreted ingredients can be followed by a few explanation descriptors.
Campbell’s Select Harvest 100% Natural Soup: “Xanthan gum, locust bean gum and carrageenan are natural ingredients that provide texture. Maltadextrin is a carbohydrate that comes from potato or corn starch.”
On The Quest For Supreme Cleanliness: Pros & Cons
Clean To Crystal Clear
New is the idea of going one step further past clean into clear, or transparent, products and labeling. Transparent in the way that it is both clean labeled with the addition of transparency about factors such as sustainability, fair trade, sourcing, and more. (Clean Label). Some brands, like Campbell and Hershey Co., have verified their commitment to be transparent about their sourcing, ingredients, and manufacturing both on labels and online.
As consumer interest in labels grow, it will be interesting to see if a solid definition for clean labeling will emerge. It will be even more interesting to see what the next strides in transparent labeling will bring to current packaging designs. We at Horizon Food Group understand the need for better-for-you, Clean&Natural products, and we constantly are experimenting and creating new products made with all-natural and clean products, including no preservatives, plant-based oils and flours, natural ancient grains, and many more currently trending items. We know all to well the opposing goals in the foodservice environment of preservative free and shelf life, and combat this challenge by producing frozen, thaw and serve products . To my new fellow ingredient perusing hippies, I look forward to scaling the grocery aisles with you one label at a time and being part of this new clean and transparent revolution.