Consumers’ shift toward health and wellness has recently pushed beverage manufacturers to step up their game to offer products with understandable and healthier ingredients. According to the 2014 Food & Healthy survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans claim they consider the healthfulness of the food and beverages they buy. And, with the global beverage market projected to reach sales of $1.3 trillion by 2017, according to Companiesandmarkets, this highly competitive sector bears testimony to its unyielding growth for innovation.
March’s digital magazine, The Clean-Label Beverage Issue, examined the clean-label movement and how imperative it is clean-label beverages are developed with consumers’ expectations for taste, texture, color and stability in mind. It also looked at the top-three considerations when formulating clean-label beveragessweeteners, flavors and color.
Since there is no single definition or regulatory standard that constitutes a clean product, the list of unacceptable ingredients used by Whole Foods and similar companies serves as a benchmark for the food and beverage industry. In essences, clean label is whether consumers can pronounce and understand a product’s ingredient and how it was manufactured.
According to Datamonitor, Innovations in Clean Label, 2013, there are four key areas that manufacturers should focus on when creating a clean label: the structure of the list itself, the names of the ingredients within the list, the level of processing of those ingredients and how “natural" the ingredients are. What’s interesting, however, is a study commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA)completed in part by Nielsen and Mintel Consultingcompared consumers’ attitudes toward sweetened food and beverage products to their shopping behavior for specific products and brands. “While a number of consumers claimed to be avoiding specific sweetening ingredients, their purchasing data shows that is simply not the case," said Martin Concannon, founding and managing editor of Lafayette Associated, adviser to CRA.
The logistics of switching to a clean-label sweetener in the actual manufacturing stage, especially when reformulating a current product, is a big hurdle, according to Alison Raban, certified food scientist with BI Nutraceuticals. “Most beverage manufacturers have an infrastructure designed to deal with large amounts of HFCS that can be easy transferred and measured from storage to the mixing vessel and changing to cane sugar can present many challengesfrom how to measure large amounts to making sure it is fully dissolved," she said. “Using agave syrup or honey does have some benefits over cane sugar, but still has some challenges."
And flavor, beyond sweetness, presents a unique set of challenges, because flavor agents do more than just add taste to a beverage and they never work alone; they work in teams of flavor agents, emulsifiers, colors (which also impact flavor), and more. So it’s not simply a matter of taste; it’s also a matter of visual appearance and ingredient exclusion.
Creating clean-label beverages that meet consumers’ expectations is tough, but at the end of the day, ingredient transparency, consumer education and awareness, and product formulation will help the manufacturer build a trustworthy relationship with their consumer by catering to their lifestyle changes and health concerns. While this process is challenging, it is vital to effectively communicate with consumers and help them understand the science behind clean labeling and work with them to create a product that is beneficial for both parties.