KANSAS CITY — Extracts are the go-to ingredients for food and beverage product developers intent on formulating products with a clean, clear or natural marketing approach. As the ingredients panel on packaged foods is scrutinized by some consumers for so-called no-no ingredients, extracts offer formulators an opportunity to preserve a formulation seen as appealing.

“The trends we see in extracts are related to what we see our customers responding to and the trends they are being asked to develop toward: Natural, clean label and organic are asked for quite frequently,” said Peggy Iler, lead scientist and senior manager with Kalsec Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich.

But a challenge facing formulators is understanding what “clean” means to food companies and consumers.

“You’re not going to find a consistent answer,” said Jill Puckett, market development specialist with Kalsec. “If you go to a clean label conference and ask, ‘What does clean label mean?’ there will be no widespread agreement.

“To us here, clean label means getting it as close to nature as possible. So, that may mean using a different emulsifier or looking at how a spice is extracted. There are different options available depending on the spice.”

Ms. Puckett added that clean label is evolving toward “clear” labeling.

“We see transparency becoming a much bigger deal to consumers,” she said. “An ingredient’s origin is important.”

“We see transparency becoming a much bigger deal to consumers. An ingredient’s origin is important.” — Jill Puckett, Kalsec

Mitin Rathod, global segment lead at Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., said clean label is a part of the equation, but it can be oversimplified and, at times, even misrepresented.

“There are underlying trends related to extracts, one of them being ease of communication; it’s something people can read and pronounce,” he said. “The other part of it that is not getting enough attention is how it relates to sustainability. It may not be top of mind regarding food ingredients, but sustainability is top of mind for many people in their day-to-day lives. Extracts are more in tune with these consumers’ shopping behavior.”

Citing 2019 data from the market research company Information Resources, Inc., Mr. Rathod said recycling and biodegradable are topics consumers rank high when they consider sustainability.

“But at No. 6 and No. 7 on the list is natural and organic,” he said. “Below them is ethnically sourced. These aren’t the leaders, but they are all in the top 10 topics consumers think about related to sustainability.”

Beverage makers have been early adopters in using extracts, Mr. Rathod said.

“Beverage remains the mover and shaker in this world of clean and pure that we consume every day,” he said. “Beverages will lead the pack. It’s an easier taste profile to execute.”

Beverage is also a category in which consumers are willing to pay a premium for certain applications. Citing internal SensientPlant extract research, Mr. Rathod said consumers may pay a 10% to 39% premium for some beverage applications. In yogurt and bakery, such premiums may range between 20% to 30%.

Ms. Iler said she is not seeing a big push in extract use in any specific category.

“Plant proteins are getting asked for in different flavor profiles,” she said. “People are asking for more complex, authentic flavor profiles to be used in applications.”

Two cuisines she said are attracting greater attention are Middle Eastern and African.

“We are doing a lot of development work on those,” she said.

Mr. Rathod said developers working with extracts need to understand the ingredients.

“The entire industry is used to using flavor compounds; they are used to something that is very adaptive,” he said. “(Extracts have) one purpose. Using extracts will push applications scientists to think harder about what they are doing. Because of the concentration and purity of extracts, it raises the question of how much to add.”

Suppliers with experience in extracts will be able to make recommendations about specific flavors and applications, he said.