Clean label a key trend

In an industry associated with vibrant hues and whimsical flavors, confectionery companies are strategically assessing how to respond to increasing consumer demand for transparency and simple ingredients.

In February, Mars, Inc., McLean, Va., pledged to remove all artificial colors from its chocolate, gum, confection, food and beverage products over the next five years, following similar announcements made by Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., and Hershey in 2015.

Many of Mars’ products already are free of artificial colors, but the company said it is broadening the scope of the effort in response to a growing demand for ingredients perceived as natural. But with such colorful candy brands as Skittles, Starburst and M&M’s, the initiative may be no easy feat.

“It’s a multi-year commitment because first and foremost taste and quality are our top concerns,” Michelle Green, marketing communications manager for Wrigley, said during an interview in May. “Even when consumers say they’re looking for certain elements, they are not willing to compromise taste and what makes a Skittle a Skittle.”

And then there’s the cost issue associated with clean label. Certain ingredients perceived as natural may be a particularly hefty investment for small and mid-size companies, such as Just Born Quality Confections, the Bethlehem, Pa.-based maker of Peeps, Hot Tamales and Mike and Ike candies. Just Born earlier this year relaunched its corporate web site with a focus on transparency, including a list of its most commonly questioned ingredients; however, the company currently has no plans to reformulate its popular candy products sold in the United States, said Matthew Pye, vice-president of trade relations and corporate affairs, in an interview.

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“We really believe that there’s nothing wrong with the ingredients we have, and certainly as the industry moves in the direction of non-G.M.O. and natural ingredients, as a mid-size candy company, making those moves ourselves is a very expensive proposition,” Mr. Pye said. “Same thing with natural colors and flavors. We have done that in the past for our products in Europe, so we know how to do that, but to do it here in the U.S. market, again, it’s an expensive proposition.”