Today’s consumers seek more from products which claim to be ‘organic’ or ‘free-from’. Demands for cleaner, more minimalistic ingredients are being seen everywhere, and companies are striving for pared-down ingredients lists in order to be successful in a booming health-focussed market.
To discover more about how consumers interact with clean label solutions, we spoke with Ken Donaven, market research professional at the Martec Group; Mona Schmitz-Hübsch, senior marketing manager for Wholesome, Nutrition and Sweetness EMEA at Ingredion; Dr Judy Whaley, senior vice president, Research and Development for Tate & Lyle; and Natalya Bright, manager Consumer Insights for Tate & Lyle.
A strong consumer force
As well as being attracted to meat-free, dairy-free, and the more recently popular alcohol-free products, consumers are becoming ever more aware of the transparency and authenticity of their food and beverages.
Schmitz-Hübsch noted that “adapting products alongside evolving consumer demands” can present challenges for manufacturers: “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.”
Consumers as researchers
An increasingly educated consumer force has driven change within the ingredients sector, Donaven agreed: “The information age has brought with it increased consumer education and greater scrutiny over food ingredients. Consumers have a heightened need and desire to know and understand what they are eating.”
Consumers are now using this education and awareness of detrimental impacts of ingredients such as additives, sugar, and preservatives to even alter the amount of ingredients that appear in their purchases.
Donaven advised on how to adapt to this demand: “Consumers are looking for food products that contain simple, easy to identify ingredients that they know and can easily pronounce. In addition, consumers are looking for products with a limited number of ingredients.
“The clean label trend has broader implications for food companies, particularly because there are not any true ‘clean label’ guidelines or regulations… any clean label definitions are still up to individual company interpretation. In order to comply with generally accepted ‘clean label’ guidelines, food companies often need to reformulate their products to remove ingredients that have been used for years. The potential impact on the taste, texture and shelf life of their products can be significant and has to be addressed with other ingredients that often cost up to 10 times more.”
“Applications with more demanding production processes, such as high-temperature or low pH fruit preparations, can also now benefit from a clean label solution,” Schmitz-Hübsch said.
These impacts on taste and mouthfeel created by clean-label alterations to products is a challenge which research and development teams must take into consideration, Schmitz-Hübsch said: “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.
“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.”
Schmitz-Hübsch also mentioned what companies can do in the early reformulation stages of products to ensure they are equipped with the tools to retain previous flavour and texture characteristics.
“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.”
Whaley explained how dairy is one of the most challenging sectors to adapt for clean label: “Many dairy products undergo rather harsh processing including pasteurisation and homogenisation units through which the texturising ingredients must retain their functionality and then maintain that functionality under refrigerated storage conditions.
“The combination of harsh processing, low-temperature storage, and end product expectations in terms of flavour and taste provide a unique, but challenging area to develop clean-label solutions.
“[Tate and Lyle] have been working with yogurt producers to develop new yogurt textures by using of our proprietary ‘texture maps’, which help them to understand how starch in yogurt behaves in the process and interacts with the other ingredients to influence the overall texture experience.
“Using these new maps gives manufacturers greater control, speed and predictability regarding how they can manipulate texture before they even begin the pilot stages of work.”
Schmitz-Hübsch advised on how the plants themselves can be adapted to replace crucial ingredients lost when removing animal proteins and fats in clean label vegan products: “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 recently launched 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 synthetic colours and/or emulsifiers afterwards, the power of the inherent components present inside the plants are used.”
“Using these new [texture] maps gives manufacturers greater control, speed and predictability,” said Whaley.
Regional differences in clean label should also be noted, Schmitz-Hübsch said: “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.”
Changing with the times
Schmitz-Hübsch described what consumers are really looking for in clean label products, and what emerging attitudes companies need to pay attention to.
“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 in the 2017 ‘Food that Just Clicks’ report, 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.”
Bright added: “[According to Neilsen research,] more than two thirds (67%) of US supplement users agree it is better to get vitamins from a healthy diet than from a pill. In fact, clean-label is the new norm. Consumers have come to expect greater transparency on-pack and in the ingredient and nutrition labels so they can easily understand ‘what’s in’ and ‘what’s out’.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020