Clean label: Getting more from less

by Donna Berry
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Less is more in the evolving world of food and beverage product development as some consumers are seeking simple products with fewer and familiar ingredients. Many familiar ingredients are complex compounds of numerous elements with varying functionalities, which may help beverage formulators declare fewer ingredients on product labels.

“Often, to make a label cleaner, manufacturers need to use multifunctional ingredients that can replace others, thus shortening the ingredient statement,” said Mark Smith, manager-ingredients, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis.

Almost all food ingredients that man can make first occurred in nature, said Richard Aust, director-technical services, iTi Tropicals Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J. For example, many tropical fruit ingredients are inherent sources of compounds included in beverage formulations as isolated food additives. When the fruit ingredient is used as the source of the compounds, only the fruit ingredient gets declared on labels.

“A good example is banana puree, which is high in natural fibers and is an excellent way to thicken beverages,” Mr. Aust said. “Since it adds viscosity, the resulting beverage is quite stable, often eliminating the need for thickening and stabilizing gums. At the same time it contributes to the juice content of the final beverage.”

Another example is passion fruit.

“Passion fruit puree is highly acidic, providing an intense tropical taste,” Mr. Aust said. “Using it often eliminates the need for citric, malic, tartaric, phosphoric, gluconic or acetic acids and other acidulants such as sodium acid sulfate.”

Fruits and vegetables, either in extract additive form or simply as an ingredient such as concentrate, juice or puree, may assist with removing color additives.

“Dragon fruit is an exotic fruit with an intense red color,” Mr. Aust said. “It adds flavor and color and can eliminate the addition of natural or artificial color, most notably cochineal and Red #40.”

The use of dual-purpose fruit ingredients make sense for beverages designed for children.

“With kids’ beverages, less is definitely more,” said Carla Fabian, technical sales account manager-beverages for Agropur Ingredients, La Crosse, Wis. “Moms seek out beverages that do not contain chemical-sounding ingredients, as well as provide nutrition.”

Corrie Reilly, marketing and communications at Agropur Ingredients, agrees that less is more when it comes to clean label beverages, especially for children, but adults, too.

“Brands will communicate to consumers that a beverage is a wholesome, back-to-nature formulation,” she said. “Often in campaigning you will see brands being compared to competitors that may not be as forward trending in the clean label arena. We have even noticed emotional appeals in the form of throw-backs that focus on simpler times and simpler ingredients.”

Aaron Martin, a food technologist with Agropur Ingredients, added that, “Some ingredients don’t necessarily have a negative connotation, rather they are simply not recognizable by the average shopper. In the case of beverage mouthfeel and stability, functional dairy proteins can replace some starches, gums and chemical-based emulsifiers. They can generally be labeled as milk proteins, whey protein or calcium caseinate, which not only speaks to a more natural origin but the protein verbiage suggests a health benefit to many of today’s consumers.”

Understanding clean label formulating

Striving to formulate packaged consumer foods and beverages with simple, consumer-friendly and healthy ingredients is a global trend, said Caroline Brons, director of marketing, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J.

“Consumers are increasingly wary of what is in food and their desire for natural, healthy and convenient products is a fundamental driver for product innovation,” she said. “Ingredients affected are mainly preservation systems and emulsifiers, as well as colorants, flavoring and sweeteners.

“The unknown easily leads to confusion and fear amongst consumers. Communication and education on the benefits and safety of ingredients is important for ingredient manufacturers, their customers and for consumers.”

She cited the example of ascorbic acid.

“It may not sound too great on a label, but vitamin C is truly good for you, and that’s what ascorbic acid is,” Ms. Brons said.

Luis Ferrey, beverage marketing manager with Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., said, “Beverages are one of the most rapidly changing segments in the food industry, often on the cutting edge of trends, and clean label is no exception. The industry is responding because clean label is ultimately less about ‘healthy’ and more about the perception of ‘better-for-you.’”

For some consumers, clean label does not necessarily mean fewer and simpler ingredients. They just want transparency and the ability to understand the ingredient, their source and function.

“Social media has played a large role in consumer awareness of food and beverage ingredients,” said Marlena Hidlay, associate marketing manager at DSM. “We’ve seen videos, consumer petitions and news releases targeting specific ingredients.”

That’s what happened two years ago with brominated vegetable oil (B.V.O.) used in lemon lime Gatorade and other citrus beverages. A 15-year-old Mississippi girl questioned its inclusion in her favorite yellow sports beverage and took to the Internet, first to find out that B.V.O. contains bromine, an element found in flame retardants and associated with causing everything from neurological damage to skin lesions, then to discover that the European Union and Japan have both banned B.V.O. as a food ingredient. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes B.V.O. as safe.

The teenager returned to the Internet in late 2012 to start an on-line petition requesting PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., to remove it from one of the beverage giant’s largest brands. She was successful. The petition received more than 200,000 signatures within months and by January 2013, PepsiCo announced the phasing out of B.V.O from Gatorade, but not Mountain Dew.

“Because of the consumer hysteria social media often creates, many companies will reformulate products, removing the ingredients under attack,” Ms. Hidlay said.

In May 2014, The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, announced it will remove B.V.O. from all of its beverages by the end of the year. Following this announcement, PepsiCo stated it also was phasing B.V.O. out of all its beverages.

Such a response is not always the logical approach. Formulators must remember why the ingredient was added, as it might be a critical component of the formulation in terms of quality, safety and shelf life. The B.V.O. served an important function in citrus beverages — emulsification of the citrus oils. It cannot be removed without being replaced.

Interestingly, in many applications it is being swapped with sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of rosin, either alone or in combination. The ingredients are no more kindly named than B.V.O., but they do not contain compounds also found in fire retardant. For some, this swap exemplifies a cleaner label. Others may want more.

“We have developed a high-efficiency emulsifier that is a naturally derived from the quillaja tree endemic to the country of Chile, that is extracted using certified sustainable agriculture practices,” Mr. Ferrey said. “This novel emulsifier allows higher oil loads (e.g. natural oil-based colors, flavors, essences or nutrients as omega-3, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamins and more) for clear beverages and concentrates, as well as functions as a replacement for B.V.O., propylene glycol, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or other weighting agents.” Labeled as quillaja extract, it functions forming micelles to stabilize emulsions. “This is accomplished by the active component in quillaja, the surfactant saponin,” Mr. Ferrey said. “Because the saponin rapidly forms micelles around oil droplets once they are mixed together, the quillaja extract has the ability to emulsify three to four times the oil load than traditional systemswithout increasing the overall viscosity or contributing cloudiness,it also offers stability across a broad range of pH levels and temperatures. We have other ingredients derived from quillaja that also enhance and increase foam stability in beverage systems, such as root beer, smoothies, protein shakes, slushy-type products and some alcoholic beverage applications.”

“This is accomplished by the active component in quillaja, the surfactant saponin,” Mr. Ferrey said. “Because the saponin rapidly forms micelles around oil droplets once they are mixed together, the quillaja extract has the ability to emulsify higher oil loads without increasing the overall viscosity of the emulsion or contributing cloudiness. The quillaja extract also enhances and increases foam stability in such beverage systems as root beer, smoothies, milkshakes, slushy-type products and some alcoholic beverage applications.”

Challenges and opportunities

Some beverages are easier to simplify than others.

“Refrigerated beverages tend to be easier to formulate because a number of ingredients that are not considered clean label, such as preservatives and stabilizers added to extend shelf life and lower waste, are not required,” Mr. Ferrey said. “Taking products from the center aisles of the grocery store and cleaning up the labels provides a great challenge because people have come to expect consistency and stability, two attributes that are not associated with natural or clean labels.

“Full-sugar beverages are also less challenging than reduced-sugar ones. Key challenges are building back the right mouthfeel using texturizers, creating a well-rounded sweetness profile, and natural color and flavor stability in the reduced-sugar beverages. In carbonated beverages or sport drinks, whereby mouthfeel is not a concern, the key challenge in replacing sugar is the use of flavor modulators to mask the off flavors associated with clean label stevia.”

Proteins present a clean label opportunity to build back mouthfeel and texture in reduced-calorie and reduced-sugar beverages.

“We have a dairy product solids ingredient that comes with or without natural flavors,” Mr. Martin said. “When you drink a beverage formulated with the ingredient, the solids provide chemo-sensations that modify the physical sensation of the beverage. It can provide a desirable complex mouthfeel while suppressing astringency. These dairy solids help create a perceived creaminess in beverages, allowing for the partial removal of fats or thick sweeteners such as corn syrup.”

Dairy proteins offer the benefit of higher protein content.

“We can now tailor whey and milk protein ingredients for specific nutritional and functional characteristics, for example replacing stabilizers and gums with proteins for a clean label, but without compromising taste and texture,” Mr. Smith said. “Listed simply as a ‘milk protein’ or ‘whey protein,’ these ingredients can help improve texture while providing a cleaner, more consumer- and customer-friendly label declaration.”

Flax is a multifunctional ingredient, providing protein, lipids and carbohydrates in the form of polysaccharides.

“Incorporating the grain into beverages delivers benefits such as improved texture and concentrated nutrition, as well as a clean label,” Mr. Smith said.

Many so-called natural colors fade with processing and time.

“We offer a range of color solutions to help formulate and reformulate beverages using natural-source and nature-identical carotenoids,” said Vikrant Lal, technical marketing manager at DSM. “With a color spectrum ranging from yellow and orange to pink and red, these carotenoids have traditionally been best suited for cloudy beverages and smoothies. However, we recently launched a line of carotenoids capable of color matching non-turbid beverages such as juices, teas and flavored waters.”

From a clean label perspective, the carotenoid beta-carotene not only functions as a natural color, it is also a dietary source of provitamin A.

“Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body and is associated with multiple health benefits, including functioning as an antioxidant for skin health and immunity,” Mr. Lal said.

Beta-carotene may be labeled as “vitamin A (from beta-carotene)” in the Nutrition Facts or “beta-carotene (for color)” in the ingredient declaration, but not both.

Many beverage applications benefit from the addition of brown color, with caramel color historically having been the go-to for natural brown. But because there are four classes of caramel color and all are simply declared as “caramel color” on ingredient statements, it is impossible to determine the class that has been added. Because certain classes may contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical called 4-methylimidazole, caramel color alternatives are sought for use in clean label beverages.

“We recently launched a line of caramelized fruits and vegetables that provide natural flavor, and incidental color,” said Campbell Barnum, vice-president-branding and market development, DDW, Louisville, Ky.

For example, caramelized apple, which is made from 100% apple juice concentrate, may be used to add and adjust color in fruit drinks and hard ciders. It shifts from a golden to a brown hue with increasing dosage. The caramelized pear shifts from yellow to a red brown hue with increasing dosage. The ingredients are declared as “caramelized [fruit] juice concentrate” or “natural flavor”. They are available in an organic option.

When calories and sugar content counts, “coconut water contributes juice content with fewer calories than other juices,” Mr. Aust said. “And being bland in color and taste, coconut water presents an excellent strategy to reduce carbohydrates without abandoning a 100% juice content claim that some beverages make.”

Coconut water concentrate also supplies numerous electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium.

Jennifer Stephens, marketing director, Penford Food Ingredients, Denver, said that, “Due to the various clean label interpretations, manufacturers develop their own clean label program based on their brand positioning and consumer base. Some manufacturers rely on the ingredient statement to communicate this positioning to minimize the risk of making claims on other parts of the packaging.”
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