Increasing Consumer Confidence and Driving Value through Clean Label Claims Globally

Posted on:October 9, 2017

October 10, 2017–The 2017 Clean Label Conference’s tagline, “Sophisticated Solutions for Simplified Products,” expresses the industry’s challenge of simplifying products and also our belief that food science will deliver solutions. To meet consumer expectations, products must not only have great taste, value and nutrition, but increasingly possess attributes covered by the term “clean label.” 

This year’s conference on March 28-29, in Itasca, Ill., provided 10 general session speakers. This 2017 Clean Label Conference Summary provides presentation highpoints. Presentations are also available for download at

Be sure to also check out information on the upcoming 2018 Clean Label Conference

Although specific clean label concerns may vary by country, many concerns overlap geographical boundaries. Common desires among clean label consumers include increased transparency, clarity and confidence in food and beverage formulations, as well as their manufacturers. [For larger PDF version of chart, click on image.]

Increasing Consumer Confidence and Driving Value through Clean Label Claims Globally

Alan Rownan, Research Analyst with Euromonitor International, Inc., presented a data-laden status report on global clean label food trends, followed by a surprising interchange at the end.

In his presentation titled “Increasing Consumer Confidence and Driving Value through Clean Label Claims Globally, Rowan began by noting that, “18 months ago, we launched a new database called ‘Passport Ethical Labels’…where we track up to 26,000 brands and package claims across 26 markets.” The purpose is to establish the true value of such claims in the specific markets served. International leaders in the clean label category include Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and Kraft Heinz (in descending order). “Clean label” is less a label policy than a corporate philosophy, posited Rownan. He segued to the recent attempted acquisition of Unilever by the Kraft Heinz Company, noting that Unilever very openly promotes its commitment to sustainability, environmental responsibility and corporate transparency. Had the acquisition been successful, “would Kraft Heinz therefore have had to adopt Unilever’s core values in order to protect all of its brands?” asked Rownan.

Another company, Mars, Inc., long was reluctant to reformulate its legacy brands but, in the end, listened to its customers, said Rownan. The language it used in its promotions clearly said to its consumers: “We hear you, and we have made an ongoing commitment to meet your needs.”

For Mars, this was a good outcome, but there are risks involved for early adopters: Rownan cited the case of The Campbell Soup Company’s highly publicized reformulations of its soup lines to significantly reduce sodium contents. “The result was that consumers equated less salt with less flavor, and the effort failed, thereby putting all the company’s brands at risk.”

Euromonitor estimates the global value of the packaged foods’ clean label category at US$165 billion across the 26 markets tracked. Rownan suggested that this is the outgrowth of consumer desires for clean, safe and natural products starting as far back as the 1960s. Events that fueled this trend included consumer fears of e-numbers (in Europe); melamine contamination; alleged links between artificial colors and hyperactivity; GMO controversies; and, more recently in the UK, the adulteration of ready-to-eat meals with horsemeat.

Euromonitor says that the market leader for clean label foods is North America ($67 billion), followed by Europe ($59 billion) and China ($23 billion). The global clean label category itself is dominated by retail packaged foods ($129 billion), soft drinks ($34 billion) and hot drinks ($3 billion). Rownan predicted modest CAGR growth (1-5%) in these categories over the 2015-2020 period, albeit from a conservative standpoint.

Underlying clean label concerns is the fact that consumers want to know not only what is in their food, but the contextual narrative behind it, said Rownan. Are ingredients locally sourced; produced by fair trade practices; or grown under environmentally sustainable conditions?

The most persuasive claims for clean labels was led by “all natural” (44%), followed by “no artificial ingredients” (40%). Organic garnered (31%), no-MSG (24%) and BPA-free (15%). Claims of support by health organizations (e.g., American Heart Association) garnered the interest of 22% of consumers polled. Make clean label claims as simple as possible and avoid “green washing,” cautioned Rownan, “because underpinning all clean label claims is the trust issue.” If claims are vague; inspire fear-mongering; or are so creative they lose specificity, they risk diluting the entire clean label category. Examples given included bottled water claiming to have been “made with clean water;” “say ‘no’ to sugar” claims; and a product that advertised “no added nasties.”

Rownan posited that increased transparency, possibly through QR codes, could only help the category. An audience member then asked if there was any evidence linking specific product claims in e-commerce to retail impacts? The response was that food products sold in e-commerce exhibit very few claims on the packages themselves, but offer significantly more claims on the website from where sold. Increasingly, these claims are accessible through QR codes. Both commentators may have inadvertently signaled how food-label regulations might become obsolete altogether.

“Instilling Consumer Confidence Through Clean Label Claims,” Alan Rownan, Research Analyst, Euromonitor International,


Understanding Consumer Reaction to Sweetened New Products

Posted on:September 7, 2017

September 7, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc.’s store page. Please consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA.

Consumers trust and like the taste of cookies with HFCS, leading to a high purchase intent score. Those with an HFCS-free claim are more likely to do better than HFCS-free formulations—simply because of the perception of HFCS.[For a larger PDF version of the chart, click on the image.]

The way consumers perceive sweetness can be said to be a “good news, bad news” type of situation.

The bad news: Rising obesity has placed a spotlight on sweeteners, and 70% of consumers are concerned about how sugar impacts their health. The WHO has urged a tax increase on sugary drinks to reduce consumption, and bloggers, celebrities and media outlets have painted HFCS as “the devil.”

However, backed by Mintel’s market research, which includes gathering the opinions of 30,000 consumers each month and tracking consumer spending in 3,000 markets across 34 countries, Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation & Insight at Mintel, has good news to report. In her Keynote Speech, “Understanding Consumer Reaction to Sweetened New Products,” she said that taste and value still drive the consumer mindset; a healthy percentage of people are willing to pay a premium for natural sweeteners like stevia; and, in short, consumers still care about indulgence.

“Even consumers who are looking for healthfulness and sugar restriction aren’t eating that way 100% of the time,” Dornblaser said. “The good news is there’s room for everything in the marketplace.”

New product introductions that make low- or reduced-sugar claims are on the rise since 2012, “and at a faster pace than new product introductions in general,” according to Mintel data. In the “snacks/cereal/energy bars” category, consumers consider low-sugar options as “unique” and “premium,” but are less likely to purchase them—because they aren’t considered “good value” or “tasty.”

“When you dig down, it’s not about the sugar,” Dornblaser said. Many of the products are from smaller companies, and consumer trust tends to be higher with bigger brands. Old Orchard’s Cran- Naturals Cranberry Apple Juice got a 57% purchase intent score compared to the 17% for Saluu’s “exciting” and “innovative” Aloe vera drink.

Consumers believe they focus more on nutrition and performance than they do on flavor. “However, the perceived flavor of the product is more important than the low-sugar claim,” Dornblaser said.

In terms of HFCS, half of consumers say they avoid it, according to Mintel, which may explain the recent drop in new product introductions with HFCS. Bakery products are still the biggest segment for HFCS; when Mintel dug deeper into cookies, they found consumers prefer cookies with this sweetener because of taste and value. However, cookies with an HFCS-free claim on the pack consistently score better than cookies without HFCS, simply because of perception.

“The point I took away from this data is HFCS doesn’t especially impact purchase intent, but if you’re going to take it out—tell people, because it makes a difference,” she asserted. This is likewise true for clean label claims, like “natural” and “organic.” Some 43% of internet users say they research sweeteners before using them, and 61% want more natural sugar substitutes, according to Lightspeed GMI and Mintel. However, 65% are confused about which substitutes are natural.

The confusion doesn’t stop there. Some 36% of U.S. consumers have cut out certain foods or ingredients they think they shouldn’t consume, compared to the 53% who worry about potentially harmful ingredients in food they buy.

“Consumers have been taught that certain things—artificial colors, artificial flavors, HFCS—are in foods and they shouldn’t be consuming them—even though companies are still putting them in,” Dornblaser said.

The majority agree that “the fewer ingredients, the healthier it is” and want more transparency— especially Millennials. A full 25% of Millennials and iGeneration are willing to pay a premium for natural sweeteners such as stevia. New product introductions with stevia have shown rapid growth in the U.S. over the past four
years—particularly in beverages and yogurt. It’s been especially effective in the juice drinks segment, Dornblaser noted, as consumer perception scored higher with stevia across the board.

Consumers aren’t buying products simply because of a low-sugar or no-HFCS claim. It needs to have something else going for it—notably good value, taste or a clean label positioning. “Tailor your approach, and sweetener, to your purpose,” Dornblaser added.

“Understanding Consumers Perceptions to Sweetened New Products,” Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation & Insight, Mintel,

Emerging Research in Aromas & Sweetness Enhancement

Posted on:August 24, 2017

August 24, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store page. Please consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Additions of tomato and strawberry volatiles associated with sweetness to their respective fruits to 2% sucrose solutions incrementally increased the perceived sweetness of the sucrose solutions by as much as 75%. [For larger PDF version of chart, click on image.]

The presentation by Thomas Colquhoun, Ph.D., Plant Biologist at the University of Florida (Gainesville), built further on the concept of multi-modal sweetness perceptions developed by previous speakers. The focus was on the potential role of volatiles and, perhaps also color and shape, on sweetness perception.

“I run a plant biotech lab that is affiliated with the UF/IFAS Plant Innovation Center, for which the overarching goal is to better people’s lives through better plant products,” explained Colquhoun. “We do this by enhancing the aesthetic appeal of plants; increasing flavor and nutritional value; and delivering plant products that consumers actually want.”

Colquhoun explained the process used: “The first step is to test and quantify consumer expectations and perceptions using methods referred to as ‘psychophysics.’ We try to understand what people’s perceptions are of plant products, from taste and flavor to emotion and perceived importance.”

Second, the germplasms of various plants are screened for biochemicals and physical attributes linked to specific, consumer-identified desirability traits. “We link molecular biology, biochemistry and psychophysics,” said Colquhoun. Finally, once the specific plant genes associated with desirable traits are identified, breeding programs are developed to imbed the desired characteristics into the targeted plants.

The laboratory’s first application of these methods identified that “sweetness” was the most desirable trait that consumers identified with strawberries. The next step was to
categorize all available strawberry germ plasms by their respective combinations of sugars, acids and volatiles (although, Colquhoun noted, geography and growing conditions can also affect these variables within specific cultivars). Sensory analysis, using the psychophysics process, was then used to identify the optimum combinations of these metabolites that consumers associated with sweetness.

“Going through this process, we stumbled upon the phenomenon of ‘volatile-enhanced taste,’” observed Colquhoun. “We identified volatiles that significantly contribute to
the perception of sweetness without the presence of sugar on the tongue.” This required the use of highly sophisticated and very expensive equipment, such as the laboratory’s triple-quad mass spectrophotometer, because when dealing with “human psychophysics data,” there is so much variation in the sensory data that it is necessary to obtain the highest

resolution available at the biochemical level. Even minute variations in biochemical data may be correlated to specific taste and flavor perceptions. In time, the scientists developed a  relational model that was sufficiently and consistently sensitive to be applicable to different fruits across different harvest conditions.

“When we applied a hierarchical cluster analysis to strawberries, tomatoes and blueberries, something very interesting popped out,” said Colquhoun. All three of these
fruits’ consumer profiles clustered out according to perceived sweetness; but, when clustered on the basis of their chemistry, they grouped out on the basis of their fruit identity. Thus, an important discrepancy was identified between the fruits’ basic chemical compositions and their perceived sweetness.

The question of “why?” necessitated building complex, multivariate models capable of associating specific and minute metabolite concentrations to specific sensory attributes.
The researchers found there were specific metabolites associated with “sweet” taste; and others associated with salty and bitter tastes, as well as “overall liking” and “overall fruit flavor” perceptions. Most compelling were the following two responses linked to sweetness:

1) The overall sweetness perceptions for blueberries were considerably lower than those for strawberries, at a fixed sugar content; i.e., it required a 2-3-fold higher sugar content in blueberries to match the perceived sweetness of strawberries. This result appears to support data, presented in an earlier presentation by Alex Woo, Ph.D., of W2O Food Innovation, indicating that red colors strongly evoke sweetness perceptions in foods and beverages.

2) Adding specific volatiles gleaned from strawberries and tomatoes to a 2% sucrose solution incrementally increased the sweetness perceptions of the sucrose solutions by 25-75%.

In conclusion, the roles of volatiles in modulating perceptions of sweetness are very real and substantial, as are the challenges of manipulating and measuring the presence of the same volatiles in the fruit. Thus, even tiny changes can offer enormous payoffs.

“Emerging Research in Aromas and Sweetness Enhancement,” Thomas Colquhoun, Assistant Professor, Plant Biotechnology, University of Florida,


The Science Behind Sugar Reduction: Ingredient Functionality Beyond Taste

Posted on:August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store page. Please consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Groves, chart, 2016 SSC

Product blueprints provide historical R&D and quality checklists for addressing formula, quality and process adjustments. Up-front investments in product blueprint development are also cost-effective in the long run, especially for products with high-volume sales and strong brand equity. [For larger PDF of chart, click on image.]

What if the development or reformulation of a product was entirely predictable? What if it was a process informed by science, rather than “gut feel”—allowing consistency and quality to be controlled on a global scale, regardless of differences in processing, packaging or the ingredient supply chain?

This was the objective sought by Leatherhead Food Research (UK) Professor Kathy Groves, Head of Science and Microscopy. “If you want to reduce sugar in foods and—this is important—make high-quality products anywhere in the world, then you need to have a proper blueprint of your products,” said Groves.

“Blueprint” refers to a technical map that tells a product developer or food scientist how a product is affected when specific parameters are changed: the effect of formula or process changes on product state, process, structure, texture and sensory properties, for example. While acknowledging that developing such a blueprint is not an easy proposition without access to the relevant technical skillsets, “not doing so for a product (with mass market appeal) can create significant inefficiencies in your product development process. The cost of not doing a blueprint far outweighs the cost of doing one,” said Groves.

How does one begin to develop such a blueprint? Begin by laying out the various parameters that define product performance and quality attributes, such as texture, chemistry, nutritional ingredient functionality and nutritional value, to cite a few examples. Each parameter is, in turn, defined by a list of specific attributes or other variables, such as “foam or emulsion interface” under ingredient functionality, or “viscosity and rheology” under texture. Such a blueprint provides a checklist for product and process developers whereby to address product-related issues in a systematic manner.

To demonstrate the concept, Groves provided the example of a biscuit’s (i.e., cookie) microstructure and its relationship to texture and other quality parameters. She began by showing a crumb structure as seen under a conventional stereomicroscope, emphasizing that the observable crumb structure has “everything to do with your experience when you eat it.”

If one cuts a thin slice through the crumb, one observes “a matrix of starch, protein, sugar and fat throughout the crumb structure.” Transmitted cross-polarized light through the slice causes anything with ordered crystallinity (e.g., sugar, fat) to appear white and, when stained, the matrix becomes much clearer, further distinguishing the positions of starches and proteins in the matrix.

The next step is to zoom into the structure with a scanning electron microscope. Air gaps become evident, which affect the fracture mechanics “when one bites into the product,” said Groves. Changing the type of detector in the electron microscope
brings out the (white) fat in the image. Fat distribution can affect taste perception–i.e., a creamy mouthfeel associated with fat particles that are broadly distributed over the crumb surface. Such microstructure data can then be linked with other techniques, such as texture or audio analyses, to determine chewing properties or brittleness, in order to further enhance the blueprint.

What happens to the product blueprint if we replace sugar in the biscuit with a typically used alternative bulk sweetener? Whereas the sugar formula exhibits evenly distributed sugar, fat, starch and protein, these fat, protein and starch interactions are very different
in the biscuit crumb with the alternative bulk sweetener. Also, the structure (viewed under a scanning electron microscope) appears very uneven; large gaps and major differences in fat distribution were evident.

“All these observed differences contribute to very different eating sensations,” said Groves. Texture analysis reveals that the sugar formula results in a harder biscuit than with the alternative bulk sweetener product.

It is clear that removing sugar has enormous implications for a biscuit’s microstructure, which in turn has implications for texture, flavor and shelflife. Developing a blueprint for a product’s ingredient function, chemistry, nutritional value, texture and other values provides a map for product formula and process adjustment, or new product development.

“Once you start doing this, it gets better, it gets easier, you become more informed—and you can extend that accumulated knowledge to other product applications,” concluded Groves.

“The Science Behind Sugar Reduction: Ingredient Functionality Beyond Taste,” Prof. Kathy Groves, Head of Science & Microscopy and Consultant, Leatherhead Food Research, Kathy.Groves@


Simply Sweet: Make Foods and Beverages Sweeter with Sight, Smell, Sound and Touch

Posted on:August 1, 2017

August 1, 2017–The following presentation is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Summary,” sponsored by Orochem. All presentations and/or adapted versions made available by the speakers are posted on Global Food Forums Inc’s store pagePlease consider attending our 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference, November 7th, at the Westin Hotel, Lombard, Ill., USA. 

Working up the pyramid of ingredient and sensory modalities allows one to achieve a 12% sucrose-equivalence (SE) in food or beverage products using high-potency sweeteners (HPS). A 12% SE is similar to that of conventional, sucrose-sweetened carbonated beverages. [For larger PDF of chart, click on image.]

“How do you make food and beverages sweet without using sugar?” asked Alex Woo, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of W2O Food Innovation. Answering his own question, he continued, “You can do this by combining a basic understanding of neuroscience and ingredient technology.”

Woo began his presentation by expanding upon conventional concepts of “flavor,” setting the stage whereby to show how to systematically achieve a 12% sucrose-level of sweetness typically associated with carbonated, sugared beverages. He proposed a pyramidal approach to using low- or no-calorie sweetener alternatives.

First, said Woo, flavor is not just about the five primary tastes. “Flavor is also 80-90% influenced by smell in the nose.” Touch receptors in the mouth let us distinguish between grainy, creamy or crunchy foods. Sound has been labeled “the forgotten flavor sense” by one academic researcher. “So, when we are talking about flavor in foods, we are really talking about the full integration of all five senses…smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing.” Each of these senses is called a “modality.”

Woo briefly summarized the different taste receptors in the mouth. “We are hard-wired to make no mistakes in detecting primary tastes, in large part, for survival reasons.” Signals from different taste and other receptors are integrated into perceived flavors by the brain.

In order to remove sugar from a product while protecting its sweet taste perception, Woo proposed “a methodology similar to stacking layers onto a pyramid in order to achieved the desired sweet taste intensity.”

First, there is a foundational layer comprising a high-potency, plant-based sweetener (HPS), such as stevia. If the stevia is stacked with monk fruit (not yet approved in the EU) in a 2:1 ratio (200-100ppm), this achieves about 6% sucrose equivalence (SE) in sweetness. This is equivalent to about a 50% sucrose reduction for most beverages in the market, said Woo.

The next step is to add a bulk non- or low-caloric sweetener, such as erythritol or allulose, to boost the sweetness by an additional 2% to approximately 8% SE. “Less is more,” counseled Woo. You want to add just enough of each sweetener to maximize
its sweetness effect without contributing off-flavors. In addition, there are the time-intensity curves to be considered, as addressed by John Fry, Connect Consulting, in his presentation.

The next step on the pyramid relies upon “cross-modal correspondence.” This refers to the integration of multiple signals from all five senses in the brain. Of these, the most important is smell. “We have about 400 smell receptors in the nose that can detect up to trillion different odors” which interact with taste to create flavors. Phantom flavors are those that operate below their own taste detection level but serve to enhance the sweetness of sweeteners. Congruent flavors are aroma molecules above the detection level that are typically associated with sweetness. These include sugar, honey or molasses distillates, tomato aroma, tea distillates or vanilla aroma.

Combined, this achieves about 10% SE. But for carbonated diet beverages, one will need a 12% SE. This requires “cross-modal modulation,” involving the interplay between the other sensory modalities.

Touch, including temperature sensations and carbonation (a pain agent), can mute differences between different artificial, high-potency sweeteners, making them more like sucrose. Lower temperatures make stevia more potent, while higher temperature increases sweetness perception in chocolate.

Sight: Shape (roundness) is associated with sweetness. Symmetrical and minimal features serve to enhance sweetness perceptions by 10-30% (in chocolates, for example). Such associations also exist in nature, where round fruits are associated with
sweetness. The color red is also associated with sweetness. Woo noted that both Coke and Pepsi’s carbonated beverages emphasize round shapes and red colors in their packaging.

Sound has been easy to overlook, but there is considerable documentation linking it to sweetness perception. High-pitched music has been associated with increased sweetness, whereas lowpitched music suggests increased bitterness.

Combined, this pyramidal combination of ingredients based on neuroscience serves to attain the 12% SE target for sweetness.

“Simply Sweet: Updates on How to Make Foods and Beverages Sweeter with Sight, Smell, Sound and Touch,” Alex Woo, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of W2O Food Innovation,

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