Health+

The Demand for Clean Label Foods

Jun 25, 2020 | Blog, Health+

All-natural, organic, non-GMO, clean-label, and more recently, “free-from” and “never-ever” terms are readily slapped onto food labels or are becoming are a part of a consumer’s vernacular, and they all connote healthy ingredients.

“Clean label” is not yet part of the regulatory framework, but rather a consumer term that has been broadly acknowledged by the food industry, consumers, academics, and even the FDA. The term ‘clean label’ does not have a single, reliable logo that consumers can look for while shopping to take a shortcut to trust the brand and product. Still, it does represent a welcomed, more significant push toward transparent, well-sourced, and wholesome ingredients.

Identifying clean-label foods can be challenging for a consumer due to the lack of a single verified and trusted certification. Instead, consumers must rely on existing certifications, the nutrition label, and some basic guidelines when making purchasing decisions.

For example, Consumer Reports explains how food labels can misuse a generic term like “natural” to imply a healthy product or attribute.

The term “Natural Flavors” is commonly found in ingredients lists and is another source of confusion. The FDA does not require the disclosure of the chemicals used, nor does it require that they are all Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS); fortunately, the quantities ingested are generally low, minimizing the health risk.

There are times when beneficial ingredients are labeled in ways that consumers don’t recognize: such as vitamin fortification, where the FDA requires certain ingredients to be labeled with their scientific name. Naturally occurring vitamin E exists in eight chemical forms (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/). For example, people generally recognize vitamin E acetate. But on labels, it can appear as “tocopherol.”

Similarly, ascorbic acid is the technical term for vitamin C. Thiamine hydrochloride is Vitamin B1. Niacinamide is simply Vitamin B3. So, even if clean labels embrace simple foods with health benefits, consumers might still shy away from these beneficial, but chemical-sounding ingredients.

Is it even possible to accurately identify clean label foods? 

Identifying “clean label” products can be challenging, but here are some essential tips:

  • Avoid overly processed foods low in nutrient content (such as high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, artificial sweeteners).

  • Avoid food production systems that have potentially harmful side effects on human health (GMO, non-organic, concentrated animal feeding operations); look for trusted certifications to confirm these (USDA Organic, NSF- or Non-GMO Project Verified).

  • Look for the “100%” – claims on a label indicating “never-ever” products, such as “no antibiotics,” “100% grass-fed,” and “100% pasture-raised.”

  • Avoid “natural flavors” and instead look for an actual ingredient to provide the flavoring.

  • Avoid added/excess amounts of sugar and sodium, which have been definitively linked with adverse health outcomes.

Clean label products are a valuable tool in increasing the nutrients consumed per calorie (nutrient density) and avoiding potentially harmful food production processes.

Market Opportunities

With the correct messaging to address today’s confusing label landscape, this market potential can be unlocked.

Research shows that 70% of consumers are likely to seek out products that meet clean label requirements, and 69% seek out ingredients with nutritional value. 91% of U.S. consumers believe food and beverage options with recognizable ingredients are healthier, according to Innova. This includes more accessible language on food labels so they can determine what is natural versus synthetic; thus, there is a significant consumer push to list ingredients with recognizable names and create products that are minimally processed.

Do the work for your consumers.

Though many consumers are concerned with clean labels and do their research, relying on them to do the work can be detrimental to a brand (especially when technical language can often be confusing). Supporting consumers who push for more accessible, familiar language on clean food labels can offer more consumer confidence and increase sales, especially if you are a brand that produces clean label products.

There is a general concern that consumers will shy away from clean label items if it comes with a higher price tag. Recent studies show that they are willing to pay more if foods remove certain ingredients, or define ingredients in more accessible language.

A few statistics based on consumer demand:

  • 46% want foods that are made and labeled with familiar ingredients

  • 42% will pay more if foods are less processed

  • 42% want foods that have no preservatives

  • 41% want foods that have no artificial sweeteners

  • 38% do not want their food to have GMOs

The bottom line is that consumers are becoming more food savvy and food-focused, and they want full transparency in the fresh and packaged foods they buy. Supporting their clean label demands can be a real benefit for the industry and should be considered moving forward.

Our Manna Tree Portfolio Companies exemplify healthy food, labeling, and teams.

  • Verde Farms: Leverage geography to source from regions where 100% grass-fed and 100% pasture-raised are possible, and traditional agricultural practices mean antibiotics or hormones have never been used. Some farms may even follow organic practices even though they’re not certified, but only the products officially certified by the USDA are labeled as organic.

  • Vital Farms: category leader in 100% pasture-raised, again leveraging geography/climate to provide laying hens with daily access to pasture

  • Nutriati: proprietary process to produce nutrient-rich pulse flour and protein to improve the nutritional profile of foods, meaning fewer additives required in food processing

  • Myco: proprietary technology to neutralize plant-based ingredient flavor to minimize sodium and sugar addition requirements to make an overall healthier product.

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