True Dairy Flavors has eliminated artificial coloring from its flavored-milk line.

Clean label formulating dominated the Institute of Food Technologists' annual meeting and food exposition this past July in Chicago. It's no wonder. With the organic claim losing influence and the natural claim highly scrutinized, companies are trying to appeal to consumers through the use of simpler formulations. This often comes with a touch of local, pure, earth friendly and better for you, all qualifiers of clean label, an industry term used by marketing and research and development teams.

During an I.F.T. technical session, Elizabeth Sloan, president, Sloan Trends Inc., Escondido, Calif., told attendees that consumers may have different goals when seeking out clean label products.

"Older people may want to avoid additives, while younger people may seek organic, all-natural and gluten-free items," she said.

Ms. Sloan shared data from a 2013 Gallup study that asked consumers to give their reasons for avoiding chemical/artificial ingredients, ingredients considered "unclean" by many in the industry. Seventy-six per cent of those age 65 and older said "concern about health," which compared with 75% for age 50-64, 62% for 35-49 and 58% for 18-34. Only 56% of those age 65 and older said "preference for natural products," which ranked behind 59% for age 50-64, 66% for 35-49 and 69% for 18-34.

She interpreted this data to suggest that consumers over the age of 50, with their larger amounts of disposable income, along with ample time to read labels and study foods and beverages, are most interested in so-called clean label products.

John Hallagan, an attorney in Washington who spoke during the same session as Ms. Sloan, said the objective for clean label should be to make it easier for consumers to understand what is in the food they are buying and how it is made. There are some ingredients and processes that raise concern with consumers, and they should be able to easily determine if a product is void of these. This is where clean moves into clear label territory.

The concept of clean label has moved beyond being a trend and now is regarded as standard in the food industry, according to Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands.

"This demand for clean labeling has now brought the need for clear labeling equally to the fore, resulting in a move to clearer and simpler claims and packaging for maximum transparency and necessitating an industry response in terms of reformulation and new communication strategies," said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation for Innova.

Innova data show that more than 20% of U.S. products tracked in 2014 featured a clean label positioning, up from 17% in 2013.

Shopping behavior

Clean label is about establishing trust with the consumer. Clean label formulating is a way for food companies to avoid natural claims while conveying a similar message about a product being made with a limited number of recognizable ingredients, said David TerMolen, partner and member of the Food Industry Team at the Chicago law firm Freeborn & Peters L.L.P.

"The trend is tied to consumer demand for transparency and simplicity in food production," he said in an interview conducted earlier this year. "In this regard, claims emphasizing the lack of synthetic or highly processed components, such as no artificial flavors, no added sugar, no high-fructose corn syrup and no monosodium glutamate are the safest because they are definitive statements that lack ambiguity."

He cautioned beverage manufacturers to fully understand their product, its ingredients and its processing so labeling statements accurately represent the product.

"For example, calling a juice product '100% pure' or 'simply' juice is risky if it has been reconstituted or moderately processed," he said. "Likewise, the statement 'made with five simple ingredients' should be avoided if one of those ingredients might not be considered simple, such as high-fructose corn syrup."

Interest in clean label foods and beverages is rising, according to the recently released report "U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, 2015," from the Food Marketing Institute (F.M.I.), Washington. Using data from The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., the report shows that in 2013, 25% of surveyed consumers said they were looking for foods and beverages with the shortest list of ingredients, as compared with 11% in 2007.

"The study showed that shoppers are increasingly seeking foods and beverages that demonstrate minimal processing, recognizable ingredients, locally grown and short ingredient lists," said Susan Borra, senior vice-president of communications and strategic planning at the F.M.I. "Consumers continue to prioritize health and wellness, with 83% reporting they are concerned about the nutritional content of the foods they eat and 71% believing their diets could be healthier."