Panera chef creating clean label recipes
Panera Bread is reworking many of its bakery formulations at its new test bakery in New Haven, Conn.

Simple and transparent

There are two approaches to clean label, often done simultaneously. There’s clean label formulating, which is all about using a minimal number of ingredients as well as simple ingredients with readable names. Then there’s clean label marketing; it’s all about transparency and disclosure. It often includes statements about what the food does not contain.

Clean label marketing is also about connecting with consumers on a personal level. There might be a story about the product’s origins or ingredient sourcing. It might include descriptors such as “artisan” and “hand crafted.”

Some might refer to clean label as the “clean eating” or “real food” movement. It incorporates health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability. Buzzwords associated with this movement include “fair trade,” “free range,” “green,” “local” and “organic.”


La Brea Bakery bread - clean label
Transitioning away from bioengineered ingredients, La Brea Bakery also plans to go to cage-free eggs.

In November 2015, Panera Bread Co. announced its commitment to using only cage-free eggs in its egg dishes as well as baked sweet goods. At the end of April 2016, Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery, North America’s leading artisan bread company and part of Aryzta, followed suit. It will transition to cage-free eggs this year. La Brea earlier announced its intent to become non-G.M.O. certified by the end of 2016.

The consumer connection

Today’s consumers want products made with ingredients that are understood, expected, authentic and easily pronounced.

Interestingly, research shows that consumers do not evaluate every component of a product individually. Rather, their method of elimination is to scan the label for certain ingredients that they personally avoid. If they discover them among the contents, the product is returned to shelf.

Melanie Felgate, Canadean
Melanie Felgate, senior consumer analyst for Canadean

“The term ‘clean label’ resonates differently among consumers globally. Moreover, a third of consumers (34%) do not actually have any understanding of what it means at all,” said Melanie Felgate, senior consumer insight analyst for Canadean, a market research firm. “This may reflect the fact that the term is more widely used in industry than as a marketing claim. However, as the clean movement gains mainstream traction, as reflected by the popularity of social media hashtags such as #cleaneating, it is important that marketers understand what ‘clean’ actually means to the consumer.”

Canadean’s fourth-quarter 2015 global survey revealed that most consumers who do recognize the clean label term most likely interpret it to mean products free from artificial ingredients, containing only natural or organic materials, or are chemical- and/or pesticide-free. A smaller proportion of consumers also associate it with other attributes such as allergen-free.

#cleaneating on Twitter
 The clean movement is gaining mainstream traction, as reflected by the popularity of social media hashtags such as #cleaneating.

“The clean label term generally resonates with consumers as an indicator that a product is natural or chemical-free,” Ms. Felgate said. “However, the fact that a significant proportion of consumers don’t understand the term or interpret it to mean, for example, that a product could be gluten-free, suggests that brands should continue to place their marketing focus on core benefits, rather than simply promoting their products as clean.”

David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, said, “Health and wellness in the current vernacular is defined by what a product doesn’t have, such as artificial ingredients or preservatives, more than by what is in it. This is a trend expected to continue and grow in 2016 and beyond.”

It’s a trend that’s also being rewarded. Earlier this year, Prevention magazine named Sprouted Seven-Grain Premium Wraps from Angelic Bakehouse, based in Cudahy, Wis., a winner in its sixth annual 100 Cleanest Packaged Food Awards. The wraps are free from G.M.O.s, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, artificial sweeteners and preservatives.

Angelic Bakehouse products - clean label
Angelic Bakehouse won a "cleanest packaged foods" award earlier this year.

“The Angelic brand has been built using the highest standards of ingredients and quality without sacrificing taste,” said Jenny Marino, the bakery’s president and chief executive officer. “We insist that clean, good-for-you food be delicious and exciting.”

Indeed, with many baked goods, namely desserts, the industry must never forget that the purpose of the product is to be enjoyed. If cleaning up the product makes it any less pleasurable, consumers won’t buy it even. with the perfectly sanitized label.

With staples such as breads and buns, most notably those used in food service, price often drives ingredient selection. When some “less than made by Mother Nature” ingredients are removed, breads and buns may mold or stale more quickly. This leads to food waste and increases product cost. If the fast-food burger costs too much, consumers won’t buy it.