Clean label concerns

by Keith Nunes
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There are numerous issues to address when trying to develop simple label products

The Campbell Soup Co.’s recent announcement it is discontinuing its 100% Natural line of soups is a cautionary tale for any company considering targeting the natural, clean label market segment. While consumers may say they want products with fewer, easier-to-understand ingredients, they also expect the attributes associated with ingredient technologies that may not be defined as clean.

The Camden, N.J.-based company is replacing its 100% Natural brand with a new brand of soups called Homestyle. Mark Alexander, president of Campbell’s North America business unit, said the 100% Natural line did not live up to the company’s expectations. He cited two reasons why: First, not all consumers are seeking natural products, and, second, the standards that are in place for a product to be called natural limited the 100% Natural product’s taste performance.

“We’re really working outside with all of kinds of vendors and partners in terms of bringing new technologies and new solutions in,” he said. “And with Homestyle, we’re able to bring all that together. And the taste of those products, of those 29 items, is substantially better than what we were able to deliver in 100% Natural.”

During the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition, held in Chicago July 13-16, an education session focused on the challenges of developing food and beverage products with cleaner labels.

Michael Joy, director of product development for Park 100 Foods, Tipton, Ind., spoke during the session and advocated food and beverage product developers consider “going back to basics,” when considering reformulation projects. He said consumers are interested in natural flavors such as soy sauce, lemon and tomato, and that the natural ingredients may play a functional role by aiding in the reduction of sodium. He added that the clean label trend has evolved beyond ingredients, and that there is also consumer interest in easy-to-understand cooking methods like roasting, braising and simmering.

Mr. Joy said product developers should brace themselves when considering “cleaning up” a formulation. He noted that the process may be time consuming and that the interrelationships some ingredients play within a formulation may make the process complex.

Stefan Hake, president and chief executive officer of GNT USA, Tarrytown, N.J., a supplier of colors sourced from natural ingredients, spoke during the session and noted that product developers need to think about the product, consumer perceptions and the regulatory environment.

In a follow-up interview with Food Business News, Mr. Hake elaborated on his points and said food and beverage executives need to understand what their goals are before embarking on a reformulation project with the goal of a cleaner label.

“People need to clearly understand what they want to accomplish,” he said. “How do you connect to the consumer? How does the consumer recognize what is on the label? This is not just a matter of changing one little thing.”

Mr. Hake said companies must also delineate between whether they want a natural product or a product with an easier-to-understand label.

“If someone wants to say a product is ‘all natural’ on the front of the package, that is a difficult thing to do,” he said. “And that is how most companies run into trouble and get frustrated.”

A clean label strategy that Mr. Hake said is working well for food and beverage companies is to develop products that include ingredients consumers may not have a hard time understanding, whether or not they are perceived as natural or clean label. The companies may call out some ingredients on the front of the label and make an effort to explain what the other ingredients are on the back of the package or through other media such as the Internet.

“If an ingredient is natural, you don’t have to call it natural,” Mr. Hake said. “For example, if I am adding a color that is sourced from carrot, I don’t have to tell the consumer it is natural. They know a carrot is natural.”

The challenge, Mr. Hake said, is with lesser known ingredients consumers may not be familiar with and sourced from raw materials that may be considered unappetizing by many. One example is carmine.

In July, the Center for Science in the Public Interest called on the Dannon Co. to remove carmine, which is a colorant sourced from cochineal insects, from its yogurts. The C.S.P.I. said Dannon’s use of carmine in some of its fruit flavored yogurts cheated consumers who may believe the color of the yogurt is derived from fruit. Dannon, for its part, has stood by its use of the ingredient.

“Carmine has received some bad press lately,” Mr. Hake said. “It may be that the ingredient is natural, but it also may be something some consumers don’t want.”

Joe Leslie, Midwest regional manager and national industrial sales manager for Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., San Francisco, foresees the trend of some ingredients being targeted as continuing.

“Consumers have become more interested and more educated about the ingredients in their food,” Mr. Leslie said. “Everyone wants to feel good about what they feed themselves, their families, and even their pets.

“The biggest recent change has been the impact of social media. Social media has provided an avenue for advocates of clean label food products to broadcast their message. The information espoused is not always accurate, but it reaches a wide audience and has had a cumulative impact. The resulting consumer awareness is a positive and growing trend.

“We expect the trend of increased attention on food labels to continue growing.”

Clean label conference slated for October

OAK BROOK, ILL. — Global Food Forums, Inc. will host the Clean Label Conference Oct. 29-30 at the Hyatt Lodge in Oak Brook. The conference will provide data, insights and hands-on technical advice focusing on consumer attitudes, product trends, regulatory considerations and the use of emerging and multi-functional natural ingredient systems.

Ingredient technologies to be discussed at the conference range from colors, preservatives, texturizers and flavors. Speakers at the event will include Steve French, managing partner of the Natural Marketing Institute; Leslie Skarra, chief executive officer of Merlin Development, Inc.; Anthony Pavel, a partner in the law firm of Morgan Lewis & Boikius L.L.P.; and others.

To learn more about the conference and Global Food Forums, visit www.globalfoodforums.com.

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