Donna Berry

CHICAGO — With no standard definition for the term “clean label,” food and beverage processors do their best to listen to consumers and formulate products that meet their desires in a particular category. When it comes to dairy foods, many consumers look beyond the ingredient statement and believe that processors’ business practices and principles are part of their clean label strategy. This is one of the dairy industry’s greatest strengths — its farm-to-fridge approach to sourcing, manufacturing and distributing dairy foods.

Still, ingredient selection has never been more important, which is why Food Business News spoke with ingredient suppliers to learn about their approach to clean label dairy and the solutions they offer. What follows are insights into capitalizing on this accelerating trend.

Food Business News: The interpretation of clean label varies by consumer and finished product. What does clean label mean for the dairy category?

Ivan Gonzales
Ivan Gonzales, marketing director of dairy for Ingredion

Ivan Gonzales, marketing director-dairy, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill.: Ingredion recently completed a global clean label ingredient consumer research study across different food categories. In the research it was identified that the recognition and acceptability of ingredients varies according to the food product where it is being used.

Across the different food categories investigated, dairy, and more specifically yogurt, was the one where consumers showed higher level of attention and awareness of the ingredients and claims used in their products of preference. It was interesting to notice that consumers ranked ingredients differently when they were able to identify the purpose of why some of the ingredients were used in specific products.

Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill, Minneapolis: According to Cargill proprietary consumer research, more than half of consumers have heard of clean label, but only 1 in 10 is confident they know what it means. Despite that uncertainty, 8 in 10 consumers say they are somewhat likely to seek clean label products. In particular, many consumers set a high clean label bar for dairy products, which they inherently view as healthy. When Cargill asked consumers to identify the products they pay closest attention to, dairy products and yogurt scored high.

Jamie Wilson, director of marketing and culinary, Parker Products, Fort Worth, Texas: Consumers’ expectations for clean label in dairy foods can differ somewhat from other application types. It often has more to do with the presence of high-quality, premium ingredients.

Yashar Shakarami
Yashar Shakarami, application technologist of sweet flavors for Sensient Flavors

Yashar Shakarami, application technologist-sweet flavors, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill.: As consumers become more educated with reading labels, the general feeling is less is more. This is true especially in dairy, where there is this perception of wholesomeness. There is also the perception of milk from cows that have not been treated with growth hormones as being clean and simple.

Jessica Knutzon, consumer trends and insights manager, CP Kelco, Atlanta: It is a challenge for food manufacturers to balance between understanding what consumers may believe about various food ingredients, meeting consumers’ demands and preferences, and creating high-quality, good-for-you products.

Jon Hopkinson
Jon Hopkinson, senior application scientist at DuPont Nutrition & Health

Jon Hopkinson, senior application scientist, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, Kas.: The clean label issue is a problem for the food industry, but it is a problem that comes directly from the food industry. In attempting to distinguish one’s product from the competition, the industry has spread fear and distrust among their own consumers. The extent of this problem is so huge that consumers now suspect that even a process like pasteurization is suspect and thought to be possibly dangerous.