Ben & Jerry's vegan ice cream, clean label dairy
Whole Foods stocks Ben & Jerry's because of its clean label sourcing of ingredients.

Additional clean label claims

Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s, a brand of Unilever, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., the original inclusion-packed ice cream, manages to get stocked by Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, because of its clean label sourcing of ingredients. Cage-free eggs emulsify and non-genetically modified hydrocolloids stabilize. Cocoa, coffee and vanilla are fair-trade certified and all milk and cream is void of artificial growth hormones. Colors and flavors are always natural, too.

Interestingly, many processors of already simple dairy products are taking extra steps to be even cleaner. They are what some might describe as “extreme clean,” as they communicate the level of clean all the way back to the farm.

For example, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards of identity for butter, butter is made exclusively from milk or cream, or both, with or without common salt, and with or without additional coloring matter, and may contain not less than 80% by weight of milkfat. The simplest butter ingredient statement may read: cream.

Alfresco Butter, clean label dairy
Vital Farms' Alfresco Butter is marketed as small-batch, slow-churned butter made from milk sourced from small herds of pasture-raised Jersey and Guernsey cows.

Early this year, Austin, Texas-based Vital Farms introduced Alfresco Butter, which is described as small-batch, slow-churned butter made from milk from small herds of pasture-raised Jersey and Guernsey cows. The company communicates on packages the extra clean and simple steps used in ingredient sourcing and manufacturing.

Russell Diez-Canseco, Vital Farms
Russell Diez-Canseco, president and c.o.o. of Vital Farms

“We want consumers to know our cows are tended on multi-generational American family farms on well-managed lands,” said Russell Diez-Canseco, president and chief operating officer of Vital Farms. “They have the choice to graze every day. In return, the cows supply a rich, high-fat milk that is just right for churning direct from the farm. The end result is an 85% butterfat product, either unsalted or with sea salt.”

Building on butterfat, coffee creamers are again being based on real cream, rather than on chemically emulsified hydrogenated oils. For example, the labels of Coffee-mate Natural Bliss from Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., states the product is all natural and “made delicious with ingredients you recognize.” Natural Bliss contains five ingredients: milk, cream, cane sugar, salt and natural flavor.

“Natural Bliss experienced astronomical sales growth of more than 50% between 2014 and 2015, a stunning feat that is all the more noteworthy because Natural Bliss was launched in 2011,” said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. “Nestle was something of a pioneer in the mass-market clean label niche and is now reaping the rewards of its prescience.”

Natural Bliss coffee creamer, clean label dairy
Natural Bliss contains five ingredients: milk, cream, cane sugar, salt and natural flavor.

The company recently announced it is simplifying the formulations of a number of ice cream and frozen dessert brands, including Dreyer’s/Edy’s, Häagen-Dazs, Outshine, Skinny Cow, Nestle Ice Cream and Nestle Drumstick. Reformulation efforts include the removal of artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and genetically modified ingredients. Other noteworthy accomplishments include the addition of more fruit or fruit juice and a reduction in sugar by an average of 11% on select products. The efforts complement the company’s December 2015 announcement of transitioning to only cage-free eggs in all of its U.S. food products, including ice cream, within the next five years.

“(We) understand that consumers want to know what’s in their food, where those ingredients come from and how the food products they purchase are made,” said Robert Kilmer, president, Nestle Dreyer’s Ice Cream. “…as consumer demand centers on transparency and choice, we are responding with new ways to make ice cream even better. Using simpler ingredients that our consumers can recognize, and removing those that don’t belong, is a natural next step for our brands.”

Dreyer’s/Edy’s Slow Churned is a marquee example of the company’s efforts with evolving to meet changing consumer preferences. The product line, which features half the fat and one-third fewer calories than full-fat ice cream, was introduced in 2004, when consumer preferences focused on lower-calorie and reduced-fat options. A proprietary process was developed to slowly churn ingredients together, producing a rich and creamy ice cream.

Edy's slow-churned ice cream, clean label dairy
Edy's Slow Churned brand is now Slow Churned Simple Recipes to reflect a cleaner ingredient profile.

Slow Churned is now Slow Churned Simple Recipes, to reflect a cleaner ingredient profile. The improved recipes feature a label with seven or eight ingredients, reduced from an average of 22. Examples of specific ingredients removed include carrageenan and xanthan gum, replaced with pectin. A team, led by research scientist Michael Sharp, analyzed every ingredient and recipe to determine the opportunity to simplify the ingredient list.

“Our mission is to deliver the best product for the consumer,” Mr. Sharp said. “In the case of Simple Recipes, this meant maintaining the great taste and texture of an established and well-liked product with simpler ingredients that consumers understand.”

The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., also is taking a company-wide approach to simplifying its yogurt product formulations. In July, the company announced that it was implementing the first of many major changes to provide more choice to consumers. To start, Dannon and Oikos branded products now include options labeled as being made with non-G.M.O. ingredients. Starting in 2017 and completing the transformation by the end of 2018, Dannon will go one step further to ensure that the cows that supply Dannon’s milk for the company’s three flagship brands (Dannon, Danimals and Oikos) will be fed non-G.M.O. feed. This will involve the conversion of an estimated 80,000 acres of farmland to produce non-G.M.O. crops.

Dannon yogurt made with nonG.M.O. ingredients, clean label dairy
Dannon and Oikos branded products now include options labeled as being made with non-G.M.O. ingredients.

“Shoppers are our main ingredient, and what is important to them drives what we do,” said Mariano Lozano, c.e.o., Dannon. “For this reason, the range of products we make is evolving to provide even more choices. Transparency is the key word for this shift. To show to our consumers that in order to make a real choice, we need clear labels. Today we are making a bold change and candidly discussing how transparency from brands is essential for shoppers to make real choices.

“Choosing to purchase foods with fewer or more natural ingredients, or with or without G.M.O. ingredients, is an important individual decision, and we feel strongly that people have the right to know how companies are making food. This is just the first of many steps toward our continued transparency and one that we hope others will follow.”