Today's consumers are more interested in what goes into their bodies than ever before. If an ingredient sounds like it wasn't provided by Mother Nature, it is often scrutinized and, even more often, rejected out of hand. Instead, consumers are seeking products with "clean labels."
"The clean-label trend can be defined as consumer demand for products free of complicated and chemical-sounding additives, made with short and understandable ingredients lists and minimal processing," said Mathieu Dondain, director of marketing and communication, Nexira.
In the beverage arena, consumers want clean-label sports drinks and sodas—to say nothing of juices, teas and other drinks—to meet expectations for taste, texture, color and stability. So beverage manufacturers have to find clean-label ingredients that not only look good on labels but work well in the bottle, too.
Ingredients such as brominated vegetable oil (BVO), sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB) and glycerol ester of wood rosin (ester gum)—often used as weighting agents in beverages to weigh down flavor oils and bring their density nearer that of the aqueous phase, stabilizing the emulsion—are losing their place in the clean-label world. Instead, flavor emulsions are being made with gum acacia (also known as gum arabic) and weighted with ester gum—"which, in my opinion, is the most label-friendly system," said Per Pihlsgard, senior beverage specialist, GNT.
Colors and sweeteners are another issue, and one the beverage industry doesn't face alone. Nutritive sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, and non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame potassium, run the risk of scaring away label-reading consumers. However, stevia and monk fruit are clean-label sweeteners gaining recognition among consumers.
Colors such as annatto, turmeric, saffron and paprika, among others, enjoy a "natural" reputation for the simple reason that consumers can wrap their brains around the ingredients' fruit, vegetable and spice origins.
Preservatives are another ingredient on consumers' radars, in part because many consumers do not understand the role preservatives play in foods and beverages. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Leatherhead Food Research, 6% of the 730 respondents said they don't understand what preservatives do, 14% said they don't think they are necessary, 47% said they don't feel they know enough about them and 54% said they automatically consider preservatives artificial.
In dairy, stabilizers provide functionality, including gelation, texture, moisture control, emulsification, stabilization and film forming. While many stabilizers are considered natural—as they are purified extracts from once-living materials—many are named after the plant or organism they are from, which are often not considered consumer-friendly terms. However, according to Amanda Higgins, quality control manager, Gum Technology Corp., consumers are starting to recognize that these hydrocolloids are natural food additives that simply assist with ensuring product quality.
For a closer look at clean-label ingredients, and how to use them in formulations, visit Food Product Design's Digital Issue Keeping it Clean.