Sector News

How to overcome challenges faced with clean label

December 28, 2018
Food & Drink

With clean label being a trending behaviour for 2018, the industry is using this consumer want to continue to add to functional, healthy spheres of various food and beverage sectors.

Clean label does not come without its challenges, and we asked Mona Schmitz-Hübsch, Ingredion’s senior marketing manager for Wholesome, Nutrition and Sweetness EMEA, to detail how these can be overcome with developments presented by natural ingredients already found in plants.

Can going clean label for plant-based foods present new challenges or opportunities in the application of such ingredients?

The rapidly growing vegan market shows no sign of slowing, as consumers seek out plant-based alternatives for common products such as dairy creamers and vegan dressings. This can present increasing challenges for manufacturers as they look to remove not only animal proteins and fats, but ensure they are meeting the need for a clean label.

Today, many vegan recipes use additives for stabilisation, emulsification, preservation, colouring and texture stability over shelf life as dairy alternatives and non-dairy products often lack the natural ingredients that provide these functionalities.

However, ingredient manufacturers are already identifying ways in which the inherent functionalities of less refined ingredients can be maintained, and this margarine, which is using “virgin oils” of wheat, corn and linseed, is a good example. Instead of using a fully refined oil-blend and adding synthetical colours and/or emulsifiers afterwards, the power of the inherent components present inside the plants are used.

Work is already ongoing to develop specialty ingredients, derived from plant-based sources, with new additional functionalities that can replace additives. As we move into 2019, our experts at Ingredion’s Idea Lab innovation centres will continue to explore the development of new clean label emulsifiers and preservatives for this growing market application.

What is it about clean label that is attracting consumers?

Food labels are more important than ever to today’s health-conscious and ingredient-savvy shoppers. Consumers are concerned about the impact of what they eat and drink and are adopting healthier habits in response, seeking out more natural products that are free from chemicals and additives with honest, transparent ingredient information on the product packaging.

The main challenge manufacturers face in keeping up with clean label is adapting their products alongside evolving consumer demands. There’s a real need to satisfy an ever-diverse range of diets, trends and lifestyle choices while assuring consumers that ingredients are simple and recognisable.

Clean label’s long-term appeal will be boosted by its advocacy of transparency. Our latest research shows that consumers want to see more information about what is in food and drink products and are using technology to help them do so.

It also encompasses many other more niche consumer demands which are expected to gather in pace such as a preference for ‘authentic’ foods which feel home-made and contain ‘kitchen-cupboard’ ingredients. This is in line with younger consumers, such as millennials, feeling fatigue with perfect, unrealistic images of the food and drinks they see on social media.

How can clean label ingredients be used without compromising on factors such as taste and texture?

Consumers may demand clean label food and drink, but when it comes to reformulating or developing new products, they will not compromise on taste, flavour or the overall eating experience. This is particularly important given that today’s consumers are concerned about the quality of healthy products available to them.

The Food That Just Clicks report revealed 71% respondents said that the recent increase in health claims has had a negative impact on the quality of food and drink. Therefore, having the relevant expertise and technical knowledge to be able to reformulate popular brands successfully is key.

Whether customers expect an indulgent chocolate dessert with extra creamy mouthfeel or gluten-free snacks with the right level of crunch, products must still fulfil the texture expectations of consumers. Especially when offering a finely-tuned sensory experience – such as the creaminess of a salad dressing – this is an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate products and offer consumers memorable and immersive experiences.

“Consumers will expect more visibility of what they eat and drink in the coming months and years,” says Schmitz-Hübsch.

In the area of functional native starches and multifunctional flours, new ingredients have been developed to enable food producers to expand their clean label ranges into new application areas.

Functional native starches and multifunctional flours open up new clean label opportunities by offering the same range of functionalities, such as process tolerance and texture stability, as modified variations but with a consumer-preferred label of simply ‘flour’ or ‘starch’.

Applications with more demanding production processes, such as high-temperature or low pH fruit preparations, can also now benefit from a clean label solution.

Accessing formulation expertise ensures that ingredient replacement and recipe formulation is carried out in the most effective way possible, selecting the right combination of ingredients. This means that the relevant clean label, production and texturising criteria are optimised and that healthy, nutritious products are created.

Have you found any regional differences in consumer attitudes to clean label?

While similar trends emerge across regions – such as the preference for simple and short ingredients lists – differences do arise between established and emerging markets, as well as country specific preferences depending on how established the clean label space is.

In markets where the emergence of the clean label movement is more recent such as Russia, there are differences in expectations and attitudes compared to the more mature Western European markets where there is now a level of expectation that makes clean label a prerequisite.

In the ‘Cracking the Clean Label Code’ report, it was revealed that clean label has become the norm in the UK, so while awareness levels are high for a natural claim at 66%, only 20% of consumers actively seek this when out shopping as they expect the products to be clean label anyway. For Russia, these figures rise to 82% awareness and 52% actively seeking.

It is not just the level of awareness and influence of label claims, but how consumers research information on food and label claims that can differ.

One of the main findings of the Food that Just Clicks report was the widespread, real-time application of technology by consumers to scrutinise label claims, before, during and after the point of sale. It discovered that the use of mobile apps is more prevalent among consumers in Africa and the Middle East than among their Western European counterparts, again indicating the level of maturity of clean label in the respective markets.

While it is clear there are differences in buying habits, and attitudes to particular label claims, what the insights do indicate is the very real opportunity that exists right now for manufacturers within the clean label space.

At a time when mobile devices, apps and websites are informing decisions more than ever, consumers will expect more visibility of what they eat and drink in the coming months and years.

But now the emphasis has shifted from what has been removed, to what is going into products. Consumers find it increasingly important to recognise the ingredients used in their food and drink. This shift in attitude may seem subtle, but it is important and is one that manufacturers need to consider.

According to our report findings, reducing undesirable ingredients, packaging waste and over-processing are the changes consumers want to see from manufacturers the most. With half of consumers ranking the removal of undesirable ingredients as their number one priority, it is clear that the clean label movement is here for the foreseeable future.

Source: FoodBev

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