To meet the growing demand for ‘clean label’, the food industry is creating solutions with more natural claims and simpler formulas with carrier free ingredients.
Following the growing health and wellness movement, consumer interest in clean label foods and beverages has emerged. The term has begun to be used to describe a nutritional demand that involves a healthier and more conscious consumption of products.
With consumers increasingly interested in the ingredients in the foods and beverages they ingest, solutions have also emerged to simplify the labels, not generate doubts and facilitate the understanding of consumers.
Research by Innova Market Insights has shown that six out of ten global consumers are interested in learning more about the origin of food.
In France, according to a study by Mintel, 79% of consumers agree that it is worth paying more for foods that contain natural flavors. Also according to the survey, in India, 36% of consumers agree that “no adulterants” would encourage them to consume more dairy drinks. In Italy, 46% of consumers would drink sports beverages more often if they were made exclusively with natural ingredients such as flavors, extracts, and dehydrates.
These data show that clean label has evolved into a broader definition of health and wellness, encompassing attributes such as more natural labeling, with as few ingredients as possible, and with items that consumers can recognize and regard as healthy. It even includes the level of processing of the products, which has received more attention.
With this, the concept has also become a solution with high added value for food products.
But what is clean label anyway?
The term clean label does not have a unique definition, but basically it is linked to the simplicity of the ingredients, which results in a more natural perception by consumers. Clean label is also related to food safety and higher quality due to the reduced presence or even absence of additives.
“Not artificial” is the most common type of clean label claim used on packaged foods, totaling 6% of total SKUs tracked in 40 major markets through e-commerce in 2020, according to Euromonitor. Consumers’ main concerns relate to preservatives, although concerns about artificial flavors are also considered high, followed by artificial additives.
But it is likely, the Euromonitor report points out, that transparency will play an even stronger role in food, beyond formula ingredients and the nutritional aspect. According to research, a greater proportion of consumers prefer flexibility in their diet to strict compromise, indicating a desire for greater control over what they consume. This is also where the importance of clarity in nutritional content on product labels comes into play.
Following the example of countries in different regions of the world, in Brazil the new legislation and nutrition labeling will come into force this year, which may further boost products with clean label formulations in the local market.
Sugar is in the sights
Another trend associated with healthiness and clean label is the reduction of sugar in formulations.
Low content of the ingredient has become a more important health attribute for three out of 10 consumers in the United States because of Covid-19, according to Mintel.
In November 2021, about one-third of consumers in the UK, France, Poland and Italy agreed that eating healthy was a higher priority for them since the pandemic. After all, people have become more health-conscious to avoid developing diseases such as obesity and diabetes, which are associated with the severe effects of the disease.
In fact, Covid reinforced a movement that was already happening. Even before the pandemic, 56% of American consumers were limiting their sugar intake. The same happens in other countries. In Chile, for example, for 37% of adults, reducing sugar is a priority when buying food. In China, 58% of adults between the ages of 18 and 59 feel that they need to reduce their consumption of this ingredient.
It is important to note, however, that this behavior does not mean that these consumers are looking for products made with sweeteners. This is why natural solutions to reduce sugar will stand out in the market, warn global trend reports, such as new processing techniques and formulations with naturally lower-sugar ingredients to replace the ingredient.
The advance of carrier free ingredients
In the development of clean label products, ingredients have gained an even greater prominence. Their specificities are what will provide a formulation aligned to the concept, allowing brands to explore this possibility in food innovations with consumers.
One example is carrier free ingredients, i.e. ingredients free from raw materials with a carrier function, such as maltodextrin, which has low functionality and can be used in the formulation of a powdered extract for standardization purposes or to reduce lump formation during the dispersion stage.
To meet the clean label demand, the industry has started to develop totally carrier free ingredients. They are removed as carriers and, consequently, are not declared on the labels. The solution also enables the development of sugar-free items for the food and beverage industries, since maltodextrin is widely used to replace it. This opens up several opportunities in the market for clean label products.
Among these possibilities is the inclusion of fruits and vegetables in the formulation. With different technologies it is possible to include dehydrated fruits and vegetables in powders that preserve active ingredients, nutritional and aromatic components in the final product.
The solution also allows manufacturers to disclose on the labels the real content of the fruit and its equivalence in terms of fruit per serving.
These innovations have come to meet consumers’ quest for health and wellness in a new era of clean label and sugar reduction. Brands in different countries around the world are increasingly exploring the attributes of the clean label concept to win over consumers.