The Call for Clean / Clean Label: Part One

Clean. What comes to mind when you hear that description applied to a diet, ingredient, recipe or label? And just as important, what comes to your consumer’s mind?  While clean for consumers might be more of a flavor descriptor equal to fresh or bright or taking a break from sugar or carbs, in the industry it typically means the removal of artificial ingredients. However, there is a shift that is slowly taking place and we expect clean to become the standard on labels with both sides in agreement as to its meaning. While the term clean is somewhat ambiguous at the present, it typically encompasses products that contain nothing artificial, have environmentally friendly packaging and ingredients that are easily identified by the consumer. Dubbed by both Specialty Food and Food Business News as the Trend (or claim) of the Year for 2016, it’s transparent that clean isn’t going anywhere.

How are manufacturers responding to the call for clean?

The Corporate Clean Up

The quest for clean seems to be a chicken/egg phenomenon that either started with a consumer battle cry or a corporate desire to accommodate health and wellness goals and mounting FDA pressures. While the word “clean” hasn’t become a standard on packaged goods labeling just yet, it is slowly creeping into the consumer vernacular. Several companies are leading the way and their actions will impress more than the average health conscious consumer.

  • Panera – Its list of “no-no” ingredients is driving its Food Policy initiative and all will be removed from their menu items by the end of 2016. Reworking its entire menu, Panera is targeting Ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, acesulfame K, and more in favor of “clean food and a transparent menu.”1 First, the soups were cleaned up and salads are targeted next, especially the dressings by removing artificial everything and striving to prove that clean can taste better. Appealing to consumers’ affinity for all that is nostalgic, handcrafted, and clean, Panera’s revamped salads will incorporate pickled onions, daily fresh sliced pineapple and handcrafted in-house dressings. Consumers are responding with revenues up almost 6% for Q1 2016.2
  • Red Gold Tomatoes – Starting with packaging its tomatoes in non-BPA containers, Red Gold has expanded its clean initiative across all four of its brands. Receiving Red Gold Non-GMO Project Verification for almost all of its canned tomatoes and revamping labels to reflect the highest level of transparency, Red Gold is focused on creating labels that will set the standard for the industry.
  • Subway – Similar to Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, the fast casual sandwich shop has goals to eliminate artificial ingredients in all items they produce by the end of 2017.
  • Unilever – The manufacturer of the world’s largest ice cream brand, Breyers, committed in 2015 to remove artificial flavors and ingredients and use only milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. Unilever’s Klondike, Good Humor and Popsicle brands are expected to follow.
  • Kellogg’s – One of the manufacturers leading the way with initiatives to remove artificial ingredients from their products, Kellogg’s is also developing new cereal, muesli and granola lines focused on “real food prepared simply” with short ingredient lists that consumers recognize.
  • Vega Clean Protein – Built around a base of plant protein, Vega Clean is “Non-GMO Project verified, gluten-free, and made without dairy or soy ingredients, artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.”3 The sports nutrition market is perfect for clean claims as its consumers are educated and motivated to control what they eat or drink.

What’s Next for Clean?

At this point there’s obviously some confusion around clean with manufacturers and industry focused on a definition built around ingredients and packaging while consumers view clean as a flavor descriptor or healthier way to eat. Potentially adding to this murkiness is a certification called “CLEAN certified” that is capitalizing on the term but centered around safety, minimal procession and bioavailability. Nevertheless, manufacturers can’t ignore the fact that “clean” is here to stay. It’s such a dynamic topic, we’re devoting more than one blog on the topic. Stay tuned to hear more about clean in our next post.

In the meantime, contact us today to learn about our clean label products that make it easy to meet consumer demand and bring the YUM.





  1. Food Business News. Nunes, Keith. Panera publishes ‘no no list’ of ingredients it will not use. May 5, 2015.
  2. Food Business News. Schroeder, Eric. Panera Ahead of the Pace, April 28, 2016.