Pine River cheese spread
To make its new clean label spreadable cheese line, Pine River Pre-Pack Inc., Newton, Wis., replaced the preservative sorbic acid with a heat-free kill step. Artificial colors and flavors were replaced with colorful spices and other ingredients from nature.

A balancing act 

How does consumers’ prioritization of flavor, appearance and nutrition impact clean label purchase decisions?

Anton Angelich
Anton Angelich, group vice-president for Virginia Dare

Anton Angelich, group vice-president, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Many dairy product labels now claim the product contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. This is becoming an expectation for consumers. But because eating is a multi-sensory experience, we cannot overlook that we eat with our eyes. If a dairy product does not look visually appealing, the consumer may not be inclined to actually ever want to try tasting it.

Melissa Muldowney, strategic marketing director-dairy, Kerry, Beloit, Wis.: Today’s consumers want foods they can trust, food that is healthy and made from ingredients they recognize. Consumers tend to shun anything artificial and replacing these with natural alternatives is relatively straightforward. Added sugars in dairy products is also an important concern for consumers that influence their perceptions and purchases of clean label products.

Added sugar in all forms, including high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial sweeteners are under the same microscope. Additionally, ingredients and artificial preservatives with chemical-sounding names are avoided by consumers and may cause them to reconsider purchase.

Paul Verderber
Paul Verderber, vice-president of sales for Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients

Paul Verderber, vice-president of sales, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients Inc., Nashville, N.C.: Consumers are steering away from artificial ingredients, and thus, formulators are looking for natural ingredients that maintain or improve the way their applications look and taste. This has opened the door for innovative ingredient solutions from nature.

April Su
April Su, research and development scientist for Milk Specialties Global

April Su, research and development scientist, Milk Specialties Global, Eden Prairie, Minn.: Consumers are doing their research and forming their own opinions on what ingredients they trust and what ingredients they stand firm against. Some of the ingredients that consumers may shy away from are ingredients that sound like chemicals or ones they have a hard time pronouncing.

As a result, consumers will research these ingredients, which tends to make them more concerned. We believe the food industry can do a better job educating consumers on ingredients they don’t understand and let them know why we use them. Also, we can direct them to reputable resources so they can get the answers they’re looking for as they work to better understand their nutritional labels.

Ms. Wilson: Sugar and calorie content remain a big concern, which drives the success of premium, clean labeled dairy brands like Halo Top, Noosa, Chobani and others. Consumers may not shun traditional dairy with its sugar and calorie content entirely, but they certainly gravitate toward more healthful choices when they have the opportunity.

Quill Merrill, principal scientist-dairy, DuPont Nutrition & Health: Consumer research has shown that some consumers base purchasing decisions on emotion rather than logic. An example is ingredients with the letter X in the name, such as xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is derived from microorganisms that grow naturally on cabbage and has no ill effect on the health and safety of those who consume it, yet, they reconsider purchase of a food listing xanthan as an ingredient because of their aversion to the letter X. Xanthan gum is a useful hydrocolloid for stabilizing foods like salad dressing and cottage cheese dressing.

Mr. Hopkinson: The important thing to remember is that most customers have no knowledge at all of the ingredients in food products. For instance, ask a group of consumers if they want α-D-glucopyranosyl-(12)-β-D-fructofuranoside in their ice cream, most will emphatically say no. But if you ask the same group of people if they would allow common table sugar that gives sweetness and smoothness to ice cream, I would guess the answer would be different. Nonetheless, the two substances are the same.