The clean label trend started as an industry response to consumer concern about ‘unwanted’ ingredients in food and drink, typically those with an artificial image. Schofield notes that the media has gone on to play a role in influencing consumer opinion of ingredients like carrageenan or MSG, resulting in these ingredients being less compatible with what consumers consider to be a ‘clean label’.
“Another important step in the clean label trend has been the development of ingredients lists that are authentic to a traditional recipe that consumers would follow when making products at home,” says Schofield. “For example, flour or starch ingredients would be expected in bakery products, but not in products like yogurt when added as thickeners. Therefore, an ingredient may be compatible with ‘clean label’ in one product, but not in another.”
‘Short and simple’ ingredients and recipes have also driven the trend.
“‘Short and simple’ refers to the use of ingredients that are found in an authentic recipe,” says Schofield. “As such, a packaged lasagne would not be expected to contain ‘just five’ or ‘just four’ ingredients, but rather to contain ingredients that would be found in a traditional lasagne recipe.”
More and more attention has been paid in recent years to the relationship between the food we eat, our own health, and the health of the planet. Interest in foods and diets that are ‘better for you, better for the planet’ have created opportunities for products linked to plant-based dieting, local food and drink production, and organic agriculture.
“Consumers today demand foods with ingredient lists that are compatible with their expectations for clean label,” says Schofield. “However, clean and natural ingredients often carry higher price points, and may impact other food and drink properties such as sensory attributes and shelf life. Consumers may not be prepared to pay more for clean label ingredients, especially if other attributes are compromised by substituting ‘regular’ ingredients with ‘clean’ ingredients.”
When considering ‘what next’, Schofield points out that the definition of a clean label has often been extended beyond artificial or ‘inauthentic’ ingredients, to encompass ingredients that may concern consumers in some way, such as allergens or genetically modified ingredients. ‘Unwanted substances’ such as pesticide residues, hormones, micro-plastics and antibiotics have also been associated with the clean label trend, even though these substances are not ingredients.
“Consumer interest in natural and fresh foods will continue to secure opportunities for clean label ingredients,” says Schofield. “The fundamental of the clean label trend still concerns developing food and drink without artificial ingredients. However, in regions like Europe, the clean label trend is very established, and so this alone may no longer deliver a point of difference because ‘clean labels’ have become an expectation.”
Schofield also believes that attention to the link between the consumption of ‘ultra-processed’ foods and health will continue to drive demand for ingredients that deliver foods with a cleaner, and less-processed image.
“Consumers’ definition of a healthy food is not limited to the information on the nutritional panel, but encompasses attributes linked to naturalness, too,” she says.