The phrase “clean label” …does it suddenly makes your palms sweat and sends a shiver up your spine or do you hear bluebirds singing a happy tune? And chances are the word “natural” might elicit similar polarizing reactions. Either way, we hopefully got your attention. Here is an up-to-date primer on what’s going on with labeling and some solutions that might “clean” things up.
First, a definition of what clean labeling is to consumers, because frankly at the end of the day, that’s who our customers are. Generally speaking, consumers define clean labeling as ingredients they recognize and might find in their own pantries: honey, flour, salt, water, oil, tomatoes…you get the idea. Industry defines clean label as “products that should not contain any additives and should have a transparent on-pack labeling, meaning that no opaque technical terms are used and that the ingredient list is rather short consisting mainly of known and traditional ingredients.”1
Consumers typically scrutinize a label to check the ingredients and many also look for the words “natural” and “non-GMO.” Consumer Reports recently conducted a phone survey on food labeling and the findings revealed much about the American consumer. Two-thirds of consumers look for the origin of their food on the label and 59% want to see the word “natural,” especially in packaged or processed foods and assume that these will contain no preservatives, GMO’s or pesticides.2 The natural claim seems to give consumers a “feel good” about buying a product and in another survey, nearly 70% of consumers are educated enough to know what GMO means and believe that it can affect their health.3 However, manufacturers and critics struggle with the word natural as it doesn’t have a strict mandated definition like “organic” does and a product labeled natural could contain GMO ingredients, confusing consumers.
CLEAN LABELING 2.0
The confusion over the definition of natural ingredients has sparked a trend forecasted for 2015. CLEAR labeling is being thrown around as the next generation of clean labeling. Consumers demand maximum transparency in labeling to be able to clearly identify ingredients on a label and want to trust the claims made about a product but are increasingly aware that not every product is labeled in their best interests.
There are a few paradoxical observations about clean labels. First, the effort to clean up a label might actually result in a label containing more ingredients, as it sometimes requires several “clean” ingredients to replace the non-clean ones. Next, consumers demand clean labels but they are no longer willing to pay extra for them. They simply expect them. This shift in behavior could end up costing manufacturers more in ingredient costs, which can’t easily be passed to consumers.4
It is apparent that labeling is going to be under scrutiny for some time to come and until regulations are more clearly defined, we have to look for ingredient sources that result in successful clean and clear labels. Just a reminder that the majority of Nikken’s soy sauce powders, vegetable and seafood extract powders and our specialty items are very clean label and our application technologists are available to assist you with adding these products to your formulations.
We hope this info helped clear some labeling questions up and as always, feel free to contact us if you need product samples or technical assistance.
- Food Labels Survey: 2014 Nationally-Representative Phone Survey, Consumer Reports National Research Center.
- “Clean Label: Consumers Are Expecting It “, Food Navigator White Paper, Dec 2014.
- snackandbakery.com/articles/87677-snack-and-bakery-brands-focus-on-clean-labels, Feb 2015.