Clean Labels: Implications, Strategies and Insights

Posted on:April 1, 2014

April 1, 2014, Global Food Forums — The following is an excerpt from the Ingredion-sponsored “2013 Clean Label Conference.” Click here for a copy of the report.

Clean labels may be “tipping to the mainstream;” so predicted Leslie Skarra, CEO, at Merlin Development, Inc. The trend in the U.S. is small, but growing and “snowballing” in the UK and Europe.Baby Boomers have been driving

Ingredient Replacement chart--Merlin Developmentthe expansion with increased disposable income and quests for health and longevity. More importantly, Millenials are also driving a shift to clean labels. Many Millenials have grown up with skepticism of the food industry.

The “food psychology” of clean label foods is also important, Skarra stated. Cooking only with clean label foods may be akin to the sentimentality formerly associated with baking. Unlike prior generations that economized on food when money was tight, Millenials are investing in clean label foods—despite the long recession and continued economic difficulties within their demographic group.

The implications of clean label food processing are numerous and complex. For traditional processors, these include the difficulties of matching current product attributes with new clean label formulations. Also, current branding may reduce “clean label believability” in some instances. In addition, alternate formulation, process or distribution strategies may be necessary, due to shelflife and micro issues resulting from clean label formulation changes.

Ingredients are key, according to Skarra, but one must also consider altering line speed, operation and distribution strategies. In fact, it “may be easier for a new brand or company to deliver clean label foods, due to current business expectations for traditional processed food manufacturers.” Skarra stressed it is best to commit to only use ingredients that are familiar and acceptable to consumers. A company could eliminate the need for antimicrobials via enhanced sanitation, and/or alternate processes, packaging or distribution technologies. Another option is to replace current ingredients with new fermentation-based antimicrobials (i.e., cultured wheat flour).

For processors currently focused on clean labels, their challenges include expanding their market via expanded distribution, which may stress sensory quality and microbiological stability. Price reductions may also be necessary, to capture a larger market share. Merlin’s unique approach to clean labels starts with clearly identifying all issues. It is important to thoroughly search for direct solutions.

“Understand what is done and why. Question all assumptions. Finding alternatives (i.e., ingredients, processes, packaging, distribution) to achieve the structures/functions/mechanisms needed is also important.”

There were several concrete marketplace examples of clean label products given in the session. The first was a hamburger bun where replacements for HFCS could be
sugar, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup and/or enzymes. Calcium propionate can be replaced with cultured wheat flour or whey. Diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and
diglycerides (DATEM) could be eliminated, and enzymes/other ingredients used in its stead.

For a clean label yogurt, Skarra suggested eliminating potassium sorbate, which she noted is used by many major national brands. Some of the issues with its elimination include process differences (to prevent mold inoculation); process reliability to assure every package is mold-free; and the impact on the brand, if the system should fail.

Skarra referenced the recent Chobani yogurt recall, stressing that after the recall, the company partnered with Cornell University; hired a new VP of quality, food safety and regulatory affairs; and launched a major ad campaign, stressing that “every cup is a commitment to delicious, preservative-free food.”

Suppliers should continue with innovations to support clean label foods. Also, Skarra suggested looking outside the U.S. for approaches or solutions; and to “be patient
with slow implementation…the barriers to change are formidable.”

For traditional food processors, Skarra challenged them to “design products with a ‘clean sheet of paper’ approach and a long view to the future, as emerging competitors are doing.” She also emphasized: “Use straightforward, unqualified communications with consumers via brands, packaging, claims, ingredient declarations and media.”

Clean label processors should adapt traditional processor-development techniques to expand the market beyond their current consumers, she said, and to “improve quality as seen by consumers and reduce costs via line speeds and efficiencies, rather than formula

In conclusion, Skarra said food manufacturers are best served by “regaining the gatekeeper role from retailers.” Education also plays a role, via the Web and package labels. “Committing to the simplest, long term messages will be most powerful and defensible.”
Leslie Skarra, CEO, Merlin Development, Inc., +1.763.286.9774,

CHART: source: Merlin Development, Inc.
Ingredient Replacement
HFCS sugar or alternatives
Calcium propionate cultured
wheat flour, whey, etc.
DATEM eliminate or use enzymes,
other ingredients
1. Define target (i.e., sensory, shelflife,
processing, cost of finished product)
2. Survey market for approaches
3. Replace prohibited ingredients and
evaluate results
4. If necessary, define structure/function/
mechanisms of the overall food matrix
5. Identify approaches to replace
6. Execute robust experimental design
7. Evaluate vs. target, then
confirm solution

Consumer & Market Trends: Opportunities for Simple, Clean & Pure Abound

Posted on:March 21, 2014

March 21, 2014, Global Food Forums — The following is an excerpt from the Ingredion-sponsored “2013 Clean Label Conference.” Click here for a copy of the report.

Illustration courtesy of the Natural Marketing Institute

Many terms and buzzwords are used to try to define the consumer trend toward the
desire for purity and simplicity in products.Report.” A Global Food Forums, Inc. event, this in-person program provided compelling information for developers of protein-foods, beverages and nutritional products.

When it comes to new trends in the clean label movement, Leonardo da Vinci put it best: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Purity and simplicity have taken clean label by storm, leading to simpler inputs, focused messaging, cleaner labeling, streamlined design and easy delivery. So explained Steve French, MBA, Managing Partner at Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), in his presentation “Consumer & Market Trends: Opportunities for Simple, Clean, & Pure Abound.”

Over the past 10 years, opinion has shifted from the elimination of negatives to the notion of clean label between those two concepts, French said. French’s presentation was an overview of the several trends within the clean label movement today, many of which he supported by citing NMI’s data on American adult consumers. French said providers today are living by the “less is more” maxim and have removed complexity and nuance to make it easier for consumers to determine what products best fit their personal values.

A key finding on this claim is that 47% of consumers look for foods/beverages with a short list of recognizable ingredients, compared to 37% in 2007. An even more obvious piece of evidence is the sheer number of beverage products that have emerged with “pure,” “real”
or “simple” in their name: 178 in 1999 compared to more than 400 in 2012.

Clean label has picked up momentum for a myriad of reasons, the most obvious being consumers’ desire to be more healthy. But, French explained, it also has ties to
gaining more control over their lives. “And, think of this sense of control as being brought to them by food and beverages.”

In NMI’s research, consumers responded strongly to the following when it comes to maintaining a healthy and balanced life: nutritious foods (68%), a balanced diet (66%), natural foods (35%), fortified/functional foods (27%) and organic foods (22%). For all those looking to proactively become healthier in their diet, there are essentially two options they can pursue: Add certain foods or avoid certain foods. Interestingly, each method is employed by roughly the same number of people.

French noted that 69% have added foods, while 71% have avoided them. “These numbers are very high and remarkably stable, but it’s that combination of the two together that formulate the basis for critical mass, especially among clean label,” he said.

Labels are a crucial element to this trend. French said that 51% of respondents purchase foods based on the ingredient list, and over half are based on the nutritional facts. These are compared to 42% and 45%, respectively, when NMI asked the same questions in 2006. Similarly, 74% of American adults say package labels influence
their purchase of healthy and natural products.

As the number of people looking to labels grows, what they are looking for is likewise changing. That said, consumers are still checking for negatives first. Items like calories (52%), total fat (46%), sodium and sugar (both 44%), saturated fat (38%) and trans fat (33%) come before positives, such as vitamins (17%), natural ingredients (13%), organic ingredients (7%), minerals (6%) and glycemic index (3%).

While food scientists have successfully cut down negative categories, like sugar and sodium, with novel ingredients, French reported that 54% of consumers don’t want
to see those artificial replacement ingredients on the label, either. That’s why, from 2007-2011, one sees growth in natural sweetener products, such as stevia (30%), evaporated cane juice (17%), raw sugar (6%) and honey (5%)—while “artificials” slowly decline. Similarly, minimal processing remains an important concept to consumers, with 56% saying they prefer minimally processed foods (compared to 48% in 2007 and 52% in 2011).

Another buzzword French advised to keep in mind is “local,” as 66% of consumers say they’ve used locally sourced foods/beverages in the past year, and 67% say it’s important that their store carry locally grown produce. Similarly, 52% of consumers care about “sustainable agriculture” compared to 44% in 2005.

Steve French, MBA, Managing Partner at NMI, may be contacted at or+1.215.513.7300 ext. 214, 

Natural Products Expo Never Fails to Please

Posted on:March 11, 2014

March 11, 2014, Global Food Forums — The 2014 Natural Products Expo West was a “whopper” this year. With some 65,000 attendees and the Anaheim Convention Center bursting at the seams with exhibitors, one could obtain a convenient overview of the natural products industry. Although the warm weather was most certainly a draw for a winter-weary nation, the event easily stands on its own merit for trend trackers, industry insiders and anyone who wants to understand what creativity and innovation is all about.

shark tank participants

Some 2014 Natural Product Expo West exhibitors said they had been filmed for Shark Tank. That exemplifies the innovative nature of some of the foods and beverages offered.

This blog will provide observations from the four-plus day expo. I also intend to provide examples from some original, great tasting and at least really interesting products in the near future.

Observation 1. If appearance is a clue to beliefs, then much to most of the crowd took health and wellness seriously and personally. As Peter Havens, Co-owner of Global Food Forums, Inc. said “If 2/3rds of the nation is overweight or obese, one could not tell it by the generally lean and fit attendees.”

Observation 2. Can there be too many gluten-free foods, health bars, protein products, raw foods or “no sugar added” products? Not by this event. Gluten-free was almost the standard.

Observation 3. Some 15-20 years ago when I first attended this event, I was told to “keep an open mind” but cautioned not to eat anything (due to serious taste issues). Not today. Tasty products abound and speakers sincerely informed that audience that “taste is really important in foods.” Sounds almost mainstream.

Observation 4. Assuming taste IS important and natural is paramount, products sweetened with maple syrup and fruit-based ingredients seemed on the upswing as well as coconut palm sugar.

Observation 5. Promising entrepreneurs had bragging rights for having been filmed for episodes of “Shark Tank.”

Lamb Current Mint Bar

The popularity of bars is extending to savory flavored offerings.

Observation 6.  With the emphasis on vegetables, on proteins (including from meats) and the understanding that their perhaps CAN be too many health bars in the marketplace, at least of the overly sweetened kind, new savory health bars are appearing in larger numbers. Examples include Kind Snack’s Strong Honey Smoked BBQ Almond Protein Bar with 10g protein and EPIC’s Lamb Current Mint bar.

Observation 7. While large corporations have become fearful of the marketing term “natural,” many smaller entrepreneurs such as can be found at this show, still use it. Other terms to convey the impression of trust and transparency found at the show beyond “pure” include “bare,” “real,” and “true” or versions of them.

Observation 8. A short list of other food trends include grain-free, paleo-friendly and nutrient dense.

Observation 8. Happily for our Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar (as of this writing, registration for the April 8-9, 2014 event closed a week ago at 240+ attendees due to seating constraints), interest in food proteins seems to be at an all time high. For a list of innovative or significant protein-touting products (most picked up from this show), see our webpage: Protein Foods, Beverages & Nutritional Products (2014)

Claudia Dziuk O’Donnell, Co-owner, Content Editor, Global Food Forums, Inc.


全球食品论坛公司 Global Food Forums’ Alibaba Question

Posted on:November 3, 2013

The various conferences of Global Food Forms ( 全球食品论坛公司 ) focuses on food ingredient technologies. This includes finding, choosing  and using these ingredients in foods, beverages and nutritional supplements.

We would like to ask the global food industry what impact the Chinese company Alibaba will have on finding, choosing and using food ingredients. Please feel free to comment?

Thank you,

Organizers of Global Food Forums, Inc.

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