Pure and simple, clean labels are in.
While pinning down a definition of what exactly qualifies as a "clean label" isn’t so simple, ingredient suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers are taking innovative steps to feature more natural ingredients and fewer additives in a wide range of products.
Lynn Dornblaser of Mintel International Group in Chicago discussed the concept of clean labels at the recent Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Anaheim, Calif. She said the reason for the trend is simple: consumers have become more interested in organic and natural products while exhibiting growing concern about additives, preservatives and colors. Also fueling the trend, she said, is an increased focus on simple communication of benefits to consumers.
With these trends in mind, Ms. Dornblaser indicated manufacturers must figure how to balance formulation needs with consumers’ desire for clear communication, and to provide as much information to consumers as possible.
Guides go clean
To that end, Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., late last month launched its "Shop Smart, Live Well: Value Without Compromise" guide. The 11-page brochure was designed to help shoppers navigate the supermarket to find healthful and high-quality foods, the company said. The guide features a tutorial on how to read nutrition labels and find products that embrace simplicity and wholesomeness.
Inside the guide, Hormel offers tips on "understanding the lingo" on claims. From "100% natural" to "gluten-free" to "organic," the guide provides a brief snapshot of what consumers should expect when they see certain terms on claims. Another section, titled "All-Natural Eating: What, Where, Why and How?" provides perspective on the benefits of short, easy-to-read ingredient lists, as well as clues for identifying "cleaner" products.
"According to a recent survey commissioned by Hormel Foods, nearly 9 in 10 (88%) Americans feel it’s important for the ingredient list on food they buy to be easy to understand," said Ryan Vossler, senior product manager for Hormel Natural Choice products. "Hormel Natural Choice meats are a great example of products that fit into the ‘clean label’ trend. They have a short, easy-to-understand ingredient list and zero preservatives, with no nitrates or artificial ingredients added. They are also gluten free, with no MSG added and are low in fat and trans fat free, so consumers know exactly what they are eating and can feel good about serving the products to their family."
In achieving its clean label status, Mr. Vossler said Hormel uses a water-based pasteurization process for its Hormel Natural Choice products.
"The product is sliced, sealed and packaged, and then placed in a
Truetaste technology chamber where 87,000 lbs per square inch of water pressure are exerted, protecting against harmful bacteria," he said. "The process is all-natural, U.S.D.A. approved and doesn’t compromise the meat’s great taste, texture, appearance or nutritional value."
Soups made simple
Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup Co. made headlines last fall when it introduced Campbell’s Select Harvest soups, a product the company billed as "soups that are made from only ingredients people can readily recognize," and noting that the label "is designed to cleanly and simply identify exactly what is and is not in each soup."
The soups are made with 100% natural white meat chicken, pasta made with whole grains and all natural chicken stock. The soups do not include any MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or artificial flavors.
Campbell said it intends to extend the line later this fall with the addition of five new varieties, pushing the number of products with the "cleaner" label to more than 50.
General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, Campbell’s largest competitor in the soup category, also is looking to "go clean" with the launch of a new line of Progresso High Fiber soups later this fall featuring 7 grams of fiber per serving with no added MSG or artificial flavors.
"Increasingly, consumers are looking for foods with health-enhancing benefits that don’t sacrifice taste or convenience," said Chad Johnson, marketing manager for Progresso. "As the category leader, Progresso is in a position to respond quickly to consumer feedback by introducing healthy innovations that taste great. We’re proud to say we’ve done just that with the new High Fiber line."
The High Fiber line will include four varieties: Chicken Tuscany; Creamy Tomato Basil; Hearty Vegetable and Noodles; and Homestyle Minestrone.
Ingredients of interest
From an ingredient supplier’s perspective, the chance to help food manufacturers develop "cleaner" products represents a compelling opportunity.
At London-based Tate & Lyle P.L.C., Joni Simms, associate director of technical services, said several manufacturers are approaching the company for assistance with product reformulation and new product development.
"In partnering with manufacturers, we’ve found that they are focusing on delivering products with fewer ingredients and simpler ingredient decks, and products that can be considered as natural by consumers," Ms. Simms said. "Many of Tate & Lyle’s ingredients deliver the attributes consumers are seeking on labels."
She said the company’s research and development team is continually developing new texturizing and fiber ingredients to meet clean label needs, and mentioned several examples of products in the market, including Promitor soluble corn fiber, Promitor resistant starch, Krystar crystalline fructose and X-Pand’r SC. X-Pand’r SC, for example, is a natural starch launched in March with application for snack food manufacturers looking for a natural texturizing agent, Ms. Simms said.
Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kas., also has experienced heightened interest from its customers in exploring ways to give ingredient labels greater appeal to consumers.
"We have received a lot of requests to help our customers remove the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ from labels, also ‘cleaning up’ the label by reducing saturated fats," said Troy Boutte, director of innovation center at Caravan Ingredients. "Our Trancendim line of high diglyceride products allows customers to achieve both objectives. Recently, we’ve received requests to remove Azodicarbonamide from labels.
"Another common request at this time is to improve the label by adding vitamins, minerals, fiber and other ingredients that promote health and wellness. Caravan’s Nutrivan line can help to achieve these goals.
"But ultimately, our customers also expect a clean label product that results in similar quality, process control and overall cost as compared to traditional products."
In general, Mr. Boutte said Caravan has incorporated basic principles of nutrition into its Trancendim, Nutrivan and Invisible Goodness product lines, and over the past 10 years has done considerable work on enzymes, diglycerides, nutritional enrichments, salt replacers, sugar replacers, high-fructose corn syrup replacers, high fiber and higher protein products.
"All of these systems are useful for creating clean label products with good functionality while keeping the health and wellness of consumers in mind," he said.
National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., meanwhile, is tackling two trends with its latest launch of clean label gluten-free solutions. Designed for cookies, muffins and cookies, the company’s latest ingredient formulation was deemed to have delivered taste and texture very close to that of gluten-containing products, according to a sensory panel enlisted by National Starch.
"Let’s face it, most gluten-free baked goods don’t quite match gluten-containing products, especially when it comes to texture and shelf life," said Bob Allin, marketing director for North America, National Starch. "Our initial testing indicates we’ve made a dramatic improvement in terms of consumer liking."
That improvement is critical at a time when many consumers are looking for gluten-free products because of their perceived health benefits.
"We believe consumers of baked goods in this fast-growing segment shouldn’t have to compromise on taste and texture because of health concerns," Mr. Allin said. "And now they don’t have to with new, clean label gluten-free solutions from National Starch."
Rice-based ingredients are the vehicle for more natural products offered by Beneo-Remy, a unit of Beneo-Group, Tienen, Germany. The company said its line of ingredients provides specific functional advantages to improve the textures and nutritional values of a range of food products.
"Recent food scares have put natural ingredients high on consumers’ priority lists," said Vincent Caluwaerts, sales and marketing manager for Beneo-Remy. "To enable food manufacturers to respond to the increased consumer consciousness about food content and their desire for ‘natural’ and ‘free-from’ products, manufacturers require ingredients providing a clean label solution, like Beneo-Remy’s range of natural and nutritious rice derivatives."
The company utilizes rice derivatives such as starches, flours, proteins and stabilized rice bran/germ in a product line that includes Remyflo, Remyline, Remygel, Remypro, Remylose, Remylive and Nutriz. The natural ingredients have application for a range of products, including baby food, prepared meals, soups and sauces, baked foods, coated meat and yogurt.