The good news and bad news of formulating clean label beverages

by Keith Nunes
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Honest Fizz clean label soda
Demand for clean label beverages, such as organic certified or naturally flavored sodas, is high.

LAS VEGAS — The good news is interest in the development of clean label beverages is high. The bad news is bottlenecks in the supply chain make it a challenge to develop products with hard-to-find ingredients or that require specific certifications.

Will Lennon, Imbibe
Will Lennon, senior vice-president of operations for Imbibe

“When developing a beverage it is critical to spend a lot of time with the client,” said Will Lennon, senior vice-president of operations for Imbibe, Inc., a Niles, Ill.-based, beverage developer. “You really need to understand what they mean by clean.”

Mr. Lennon said a company’s definition of clean may range across a variety of categories and include certifications, shorter ingredient lists, pronounceable ingredients, transparency, sustainability and free from. He spoke Oct. 5 at SupplySide West, taking place Oct. 4-7 in Las Vegas.

As an example, he referenced organic certification.

Core organic beverages, clean label
Organic certification may mean 100% organic, organic-certified ingredients or containing organic-compliant ingredients.

“Organic can mean a few different things,” he said. “It could mean 100% organic, organic-certified ingredients or containing organic-compliant ingredients.

“A retailer wanted us to do an organic soda. We thought we were aligned. What we learned is the retailer wanted a 60-calorie soda. We developed the product, went to get organic certification and learned we could not do it, because the CO2 gas has to be organic. You can’t get that so we had to start over and develop a 200 calorie soda.”

He added that meeting the standards for non-G.M.O. certification is less difficult, but challenges may crop up.

Zevia Non-GMO Project verified, clean label
Meeting the standards for non-G.M.O. certification for beverages is less difficult, but challenges may crop up.

“We developed a non-G.M.O. beverage product, a soft drink, and the challenge we faced was procuring ingredients,” Mr. Lennon said. “It turned out there was only one syrup that was non-G.M.O. and it was made in France. It took 8 weeks to get the syrup and delayed the project.”

Other issues that may arise relate to shelf life and stability, Mr. Lennon said.

“Switching to natural colors ... or removing artificial preservatives will affect the end product's shelf life,” he said.

Steaz naturally flavored beverages, clean label
Switching to only natural colors may affect a beverage's shelf life.

The good news is there are more suppliers offering ingredients that may be classified as clean label, but also have additional functionality.

“Having proper documentation about an ingredient is also necessary when meeting a certification,” Mr. Lennon said. “And we are seeing ingredient suppliers investing in meeting that need.” 
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