PepsiCo launched Caleb's Kola, which is packaged in glass bottles and made with cane sugar, kola nut extract and spices.

Color, flavor and taste

With water being the simplest, cleanest, most minimally processed beverage, careful ingredient selection is required to add color, flavor, sweetness and even health benefits to a beverage to keep it as clean label as possible.

When it comes to color, any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding color to a food or beverage is a color additive, with all color additives requiring approval by the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A) as a food additive. Further, the F.D.A. does not consider any color added to a food as natural unless the color is natural to the product itself. For example, strawberry extract added to strawberry juice to boost its red hue is natural. If beet extract is used, this is not natural. Using the beet extract, it would be acceptable to say "does not contain any artificial colors," as the F.D.A. does currently identify seven color additives as synthetic.

Primarily derived from petroleum, the seven synthetic colors require certification and are identified with an F.D.&C. number indicating that the additive has been tested for safety and is approved for use in foods, drugs and cosmetics, or F.D.&C. Color additives exempt from certification include fruit- and vegetable-based ingredients, as well as ingredients sourced from minerals, insects and fermentation. Many of these have come to be considered clean label, versus the seven certified colors.

Just in time for back-to-school, True Dairy Flavors, a division of Midpoint Enterprises Inc., Hudson, Ohio, announced it had eliminated artificial coloring from its flavored-milk line. The company hopes to partner with other dairies around the country to create a national brand. This cleaner label formulation brings them one step closer to achieving this goal.

"We are both a processor and a licensor of the brand and supplier of the flavor systems," said Tom Matun, president. "We currently produce flavored milk for sale in regional stores and are also looking to partner with other dairies that are interested in being part of a national brand.

"Although we've had overwhelming positive feedback regarding our products, we wanted to respond to the increased consumer demand for products with cleaner labels."

After color, flavor is the next consideration when formulating clean label beverages. The F.D.A. is specific about what qualifies as an artificial or natural flavor; however, anyone with knowledge of the flavor manufacturing industry knows the two have more in common than not.

A natural flavor is one derived from a "spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof," according to the F.D.A. With natural flavors, the original chemical component is found in nature and is extracted, purified and reproduced. Artificial flavors, on the other hand, are usually entirely human made, as opposed to being derived from a natural source.

Visually the two look the same and typically perform the same. They both are mixtures of ingredients, often including solvents and preservatives. But, at the end of the day, the clean label consumer typically strives to avoid anything artificial, so flavor, if necessary in a beverage, is best to be one that may be labeled natural.

Old Orchard Brands introduced cherry limeade and watermelon cucumber lemonade, juice beverages featuring a 33% reduction in sugar while maintaining a full-flavor taste, according to the company.

For example, the Pulse Beverage Corp., Denver, markets Natural Cabana brand lemonades and limeades. The beverages do not contain any artificial sweeteners or colors, yet still are vibrantly colored through the use of fruit and vegetable extracts. Using a combination of real fruit juice (there's 12% lemon juice in the original), natural flavors, cane sugar and stevia extract, the company maintains calories at 60 per 8-oz serving, which is lower than other lemonades.

The third and final greatest consideration in achieving clean label recognition in the beverage category is sweetener selection.

Concerns surrounding artificial sweeteners are strengthening natural and naturally sweetened carbonated soft drinks' positioning as a better-for-you alternative to regular and diet sodas in today's marketplace, according to a recently released report from Chicago-based Mintel entitled "Carbonated soft drinks: Spotlight on natural/craft U.S. 2015." This sweetener conundrum carries over to all beverages.

Nearly three in five U.S. adults agree carbonated soft drinks made with natural ingredients are healthier than those made with artificial ingredients, according to the Mintel report. Of Americans who currently consume or are interested in craft soda, 54% indicate natural or real ingredients are important to them, including 50% of parents, highlighting natural soda's potential in the market.

Despite being in its early stages, the craft and natural segments are poised to grow. While Mintel's research shows that 66% of U.S. adults do not currently drink craft sodas, 44% of non-craft drinkers are interested in trying craft products. A similar trend is seen with natural soft drinks, of which 40% of consumers currently drink, with usage highest among parents (60%) and millennials (58%). Interestingly, 34% of Americans are interested in seeing carbonated soft drinks with added benefits, such as protein, vitamins or minerals.

"The definition of health is changing from desiring low/no-fat and -sugar, to 'real' or unadulterated ingredients," said Elizabeth Sisel, beverage analyst at Mintel. "Natural and craft brands tend to feature ingredients in more natural forms, to position products as a better-for-you option.

"Craft and natural sodas also provide new flavor experiences, including blends of fruits, spices and herbs, while hitting naturally sweetened and premium ingredient trends. Craft carbonated soft drinks have the potential to peak interests similar to the craft beer segment, offering consumers artisanal beverages that often support local communities and provide a complete taste experience through premium ingredients, unique flavors and small-batch quality. Similar to the progression of craft beer, consumers are veering away from big brands and seeking smaller brewers that are perceived as more authentic."

This includes being more clean and clear.

When it comes to sweeteners, the No. 1 goal with clean label efforts should be to keep added sugars low, while avoiding artificial sweeteners. Today, beverage formulators have many tools to assist them.

Honest Tea, Bethesda, Md., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, takes a variety of approaches to accomplish this, providing for beverages ranging from unsweetened and zero grams of sugar to ones that are "just a tad sweet" using a variety of organic sweeteners.

"With our new unsweetened herbal teas we worked a long time to create full-flavor tea taste without using any sweetener," said Seth Goldman, co-founder and chief executive officer. "For these beverages we source herbs, spices and other flavorful ingredients that don't get muted after the brewed beverage is cooled and packaged, because what works in a hot tea does not necessarily perform once chilled."

With its Honest Kids beverage line, the company uses only organic fruit juice to sweeten and color this drink line intended for children. Each 6.75-oz pouch contains 30% to 42% juice, depending on variety, and 40 calories.

This summer, Old Orchard Brands, Sparta, Mich., introduced cherry limeade and watermelon cucumber lemonade, juice beverages featuring a 33% reduction in sugar while maintaining a full-flavor taste, according to the company. Old Orchard's new seasonal flavors are made with lemon and lime juices and are sweetened with a blend of stevia leaf extract and cane sugar. The new options join Old Orchard's existing line of naturally reduced-sugar strawberry lemonade and country style lemonade.

Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass.-based Ocean Spray offers a clean label beverage with benefits. New PACt cranberry extract water is loaded with proanthocyanidins, compounds found deep inside cranberries that function as antioxidants in the body, while helping cleanse and purify the body by allowing certain harmful bacteria to be flushed away naturally.

"We found a way to concentrate the unique health-promoting elements found deep inside the cranberry through the development of a cranberry extract made with a patented process," said Christina Khoo, director of research sciences. With only 10 calories per 16-oz bottle, PACt water contains just seven ingredients: purified water, cranberry extract, agave nectar, stevia, monk fruit extract, natural fruit flavors and sea salt.

Clean, clear and simple, it's possible in all beverage concepts.