Supplement Perspectives

The Year in Review: The Rise (and Importance) of "Clean Label"

<p style="text-autospace: ;">George Pontiakos, president and CEO of BI Nutraceuticals, says the concept must not meet the same fate as &ldquo;natural.&rdquo; </p>

The health and wellness industry is one driven by trends, and 2014 proved to be a dynamic year, especially beginning on the heels of the negative media attention involving multivitamins and omega-3s.

Yes, fibers and proteins are still widely sought after, as well as gluten-free and locally sourced products. Like every year, we have seen once-impressive trends falter and others skyrocket as replacements. In 2014, we saw the decline of “natural” and the rise of “clean label.”

Interestingly enough, both of these trends are ambiguous in their own right; there is no definition, no written law as to what can be classified as “natural" or “clean label.” However, I do believe consumers have more of a consensus as to what “clean label” is: few, free-from, and minimally processed ingredients, as well as natural alternatives to color, excipients, and preservatives. Although “clean label” does encompass “natural,” it does so in a more definite sense by removing components off the nutrient deck, holding manufacturers and marketers accountable for how they label their products. This speaks volumes about just how rapidly the consumer mind and this industry evolve.

With the growing demand for cleaner labels, finished product manufacturers are reformulating product lines in order to omit artificial and synthetic ingredients in favor of more recognizable ingredients, such as botanical powders. BI, the leading supplier of botanical ingredients in the United States, is directly witnessing this trend as product developers come to us for botanicals, grains, and fibers—but not just for their health benefits. They want functional benefits and clean label appeal.

A multitude of manufacturers are interested in our high-fiber ingredients due to their hygroscopic nature, which contributes to their product development benefits. This includes but is not limited to enhancing mouth feel, increasing viscosity, and providing structure. On the liquid side, manufacturers are primarily seeking natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners, such as Agave, as well as natural alternatives to artificial colors, such as beet root.

Manufacturers must note that even though beet root may naturally color a product, it cannot necessarily be marketed as such. Ingredients can only be marketed as a natural color when incorporated into a product that inherently contains that color. For instance, BI’s beet root powder can be labeled as a natural color when incorporated into beet juice, but not when it is incorporated into a berry-flavored sports drink. This rule is dated, as with other regulations involving dietary supplements and functional foods and beverages, due to the constantly changing nature of this industry.

Without a concise definition, “clean label” is still susceptible to go down the path “natural” did – misrepresented and overexposed, even though consumers grasp what it entails. No matter how popular a trend may be, it can always decrease in popularity, especially in a trend-driven industry such as health and wellness. To prevent a downfall, manufacturers need to ethically market their products and continually educate their consumers so they recognize the manufacturers that do not. A concept, however ambiguous it may seem, needs to be protected just as much as an actual ingredient or product must be protected from adulteration and contamination.

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