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Clean-Label Food Trends

Despite a desire for clean-label foods, consumers still like their indulgences—which increases the challenges for product developers and brand holders.

From sweet treats to savory snacks, from breakfast to at-home happy hours and late-night indulgences, clean label is sweeping through marketplace shelves at a rapid pace. Major brands and quick-service chains are removing controversial ingredients while pledging simplicity and authenticity. But there’s still a disconnect between consumers and manufacturing labels. According to Mintel’s “Food Packaging Trends: Spotlight on Food Labeling, US, August 2015" report, “Labels are not resonating with shoppers’ needs and may be in need of an overhaul,"

Perhaps that overhaul is what’s been brewing more recently with clear, transparent labels that talk consumer speak. From a consumer standpoint, clean label is less driven by nutritional claims and panels, and more by ingredient transparency and reputation. More than eight in 10 (82 percent) of global consumers said “ingredient transparency is a very important or important factor" when shopping for food and beverage products, according to “Re: Thinking Consumption: Consumers and the Future of Sustainability," a study by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility.

Not only are simplification and ingredient reductions important to a clean label, but how a food is processed also plays a part. Innova Market Insights named its “Top 10 Trends List for 2016," offering insight into the clean-eating trend; one trend, “Processing the Natural Way," highlighted honest discussions that brands are having about their production processes. Many companies are featuring their processing methods as on-pack communication. “Newer technologies such as high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) may succeed if they are seen as a fresh alternative to using preservatives," noted Innova Market Insights.

And although desserts, confectioneries and other sweet delights seem immune to this back-to-basics trend, they are indeed being swept up, cleaned up and served straight up with a side of “grandma friendly" ingredients.

“Consumers still like their indulgent foods, and if [consumers] can eat the same item that was once considered ‘unhealthy’ and is now clean, then [they] don’t have to give anything up; in fact, they [could] benefit from the change," said AnnMarie Kraszewski, food scientist, Wixon. “Additionally, it also makes an emotional connection; for instance, when eating a clean-label pie, the consumer may be brought back to a time when grandma used to make the same thing using the same ingredients."

Confectioneries aren’t exempt from clean-label’s powers. “In confectionery coatings, rice starch is popular as a clean-label alternative to titanium dioxide," explained Jon Peters, president, BENEO Inc. “Due to its very fine particle size and white color, rice starch fills up micro pores on the surface of coated candies, allowing for the creation of perfectly smooth and white coatings." 

Here are a few final facts to consider when talking sweets, sweeteners and clean label. The Corn Refiners Association’s (CRA) “2015 Year in Review: The Next Generation of Sweetener Trends Has Arrived," offered a different perspective on sweeteners and slightly challenges the clean-label overhaul with a concept dubbed “mindful marketing."

“Mindfulness represents an awareness and thoughtfulness about food and eating habits," according to the report. “The mindful consumer focuses on balance, without fixating on any single ingredient or food product as the sole determinant for healthier eating,"

CRA reported 68 percent of consumers agreed moderation is more important than sweetener ingredients. In fact, 69 percent of Millennials said they focus on a well-balanced diet more than specific sweetener ingredients. Further, consumers are four times more concerned about total sugars than sweetener type. Food (or in this case, sweets) for thought.

Learn more about the clean-label trend in foods and beverages in the article “The Taste of Clean-Label Foods" in INSIDER’s Article Archives.

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