CHICAGO — The item contains succinic acid, anisyl propionate, amyl acetate and ascorbic acid. The list of ingredients sounds far from simple, and yet the item in question is a melon, said Kantha Shelke, principal for Corvus Blue, L.L.C.

She used a melon ingredient list to help explain why food and beverage manufacturers, while seeking to simplify their ingredient lists, also may want to educate consumers on the benefits that chemical-sounding ingredients bring to food. A group she called “yoga mommas” may be a good target audience.

Food manufacturers should be more transparent, Dr. Shelke said while giving a presentation on simple/clean label strategies March 8 in Chicago at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2011. They should educate consumers why certain ingredients are used.

Right now food books written by authors who have little chemistry knowledge are telling consumers what simple/clean labels are and are not. The food industry should be more proactive in influencing consumers, Dr. Shelke said.

Simple/clean labels are associated with a fewer number of ingredients, more natural ingredients and fewer synthetic ingredients, but no legal definition for “clean label” exists, she said.

“Clean is in the eye of the beholder,” Dr. Shelke said.

During efforts to simplify ingredient lists in products, manufacturers should identify why they are replacing a certain ingredient, she said. Perhaps they wish to make a food product appear more healthy or to make it regulatory compliant. The manufacturers also may wish a product to appeal to a new demographic.
Manufacturers should know how consumers view an ingredient. For example, they may accept chlorinated flour in a product because they already accept chlorinated water, Dr. Shelke said.

Manufacturers also should consider safety issues in ingredient list modification. For example, when cracker manufacturers took out trans fat, shelf life in some cases decreased and led to rancid crackers.

An ideal simple/clean label will include food-derived ingredients that have zero or few parentheses in the ingredient list, Dr. Shelke said. “Yoga mommas” especially do not like words within brackets.

The final product should have minimal deviation from the original and costs should be comparable, she added of an ideal simple/clean label.

The move to simple/clean labels has become a revolution, Dr. Shelke said.

“We are going there kicking and screaming,” she said of the food industry.

Industry, however, has the power to educate consumers and explain why certain ingredients are used.
“If only we could be a little more transparent,” she said.