The clean label mindset stakes its claim in the resulting battlefield between the practical, the desirable and the optimal. To borrow from the Hippocratic oath, the trend reflects a “first, do no harm” approach to screening processed foods. As that “first” implies, it is a litmus test more than a complete philosophy. A diverse set of people who are passionate about food or are embedded in the food industry—including epicureans; organic, local, slow food advocates; nutritionists; fair-trade activists; and world health and hunger officials—would not necessarily credit clean label with asking the right question.
Preferences & Motivations
Nonetheless, consumer preference for clean labels and concerns about food additives are pressing issues for the processed food industry, because they are deeply rooted in long-term trends. At the broadest level, the majority of U.S. consumers are trying to eat more healthily. Simmons National Consumer Survey data from Experian Marketing Services showed that only 5% of U.S. adults disagreed a lot, and only 6% disagreed even a little, that they are trying to eat healthier foods. By comparison, at the other end of the spectrum, more than a third (36%) of adults agreed a little, and nearly one quarter (24%) agreed a lot, that they are working to improve their eating patterns.
In this same vein, only a quarter (26%) of U.S. adults aren’t watching their diet, according to Packaged Facts’ own survey data. For the majority who are watching what they eat, the top motivations are to improve health generally (41%); to lose, maintain or avoid gaining weight; or for a more specific medical reason (such as diabetes or heart health). Notably, about one-third of adults across age groups are watching their diet to lose weight; however, this rate drops somewhat for those age 70 and over.
Nutritional Value In Focus
A priority on healthier eating translates into increased attention to nutritional detail. Simmons data showed that 9% of U.S. adults disagreed a lot, and 13% disagreed a little, that nutritional value is the most important factor to foods. But these nutrition skeptics are outweighed by the 26% of adults who agreed a little, and the 20% who agreed a lot, that nutritional value is (or at least should be) the top consideration in choosing which foods to eat. However, while good nutritional intentions often fail between what’s on shopping lists and what ends up in grocery carts, or between what’s designed into meal programs and what happens at fast food drive-thrus, nutritional value has the upper hand in consumer mentalities.
Increased attention to nutrition in turn means a brighter spotlight on ingredients. Here again, Simmons data showed that only 9% of U.S. adults disagreed a lot, and only 14% disagreed a little, that they like to know as much information about ingredients as possible when shopping for food products. A significantly larger contingent somewhat or strongly agree that, when it comes to food product ingredients, the more detail the better. Moreover, Simmons tracking showed these patterns in attitudes toward healthier eating, nutritional value and ingredient information have held steady for at least a decade.
For processed food products, these patterns play out in supermarket aisles where consumers inspect ingredient lists and Nutrition Facts panels. In the realpolitik of food shopping, pragmatic considerations such as product freshness, price and promotion rise to top of mind when grocery shoppers are choosing which products to buy. Nonetheless, Packaged Facts survey data showed the ingredient list (characterized as “very important” by 52% of grocery shoppers) and the Nutrition Facts panel (50%) follow in importance. In doing so, these trump not only the importance of ingredient-free statements (a clean label element) and of ingredient benefit statements (a nutraceutical element), but also the importance of food brands (32%).
Consumer inspection of ingredient lists and Nutrition Facts panels draws on both positive and negative motivations. On the positive side, many consumers actively seek out nutrients such as whole grains, fiber, protein, antioxidants and probiotics, and a significant contingent seek out nutrients in whole, processed and functional foods to target specific health (and energy level) concerns. On the negative motivation front, a majority of grocery shoppers would caucus with author and whole/real food advocate Michael Pollan: only 1% strongly disagreed, and only 4% even somewhat disagreed, that when it comes to processed foods, the fewer ingredients the better. A clear majority fell at the other end of the spectrum, with 37% somewhat agreeing and 28% strongly agreeing that food product ingredients are best counted on one hand.
For one thing, the more ingredients in processed foods, the higher the likelihood of including those that individual consumers are avoiding. Some of the ingredients a significant portion of consumers are avoiding include: fats (especially trans fats and saturated fats); sweeteners (especially added sugars or artificial sweeteners); sodium; the traditional allergens (plus other foods or ingredients that produce consumer intolerances and sensitivities, including gluten); and food processing additives (preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, texturizers); along with GMOs, antibiotics and growth hormones in agricultural, livestock and dairy products.
Perils of Processing
Overall, as noted in Packaged Facts’ Food Formulation Trends: Ingredients Consumers Avoid (February 2014), 28% of U.S. adults somewhat agreed, and 16% strongly agreed, “food restrictions, food allergies, or foods/ingredients I avoid play an important role in what I eat.” Moreover, the potentially detrimental health effects of certain food ingredients or food additives on children are increasingly under discussion.
Wariness over ingredients (and especially artificial, unpronounceable ingredients) ties into consumer ambivalence toward the processed food industry, despite the fact that so many people rely on these products on a daily basis. For example, Packaged Facts survey data showed 38% of grocery shoppers somewhat agreed, and 23% strongly agreed, “grocery manufacturers often mislead by highlighting only the positive nutritional qualities in their products, not the negatives ones.” This distrust is fanning debate over GMOs and fueling demand for local, traceable foods.
Most consumers perceive fresh and natural whole foods as better than processed or packaged foods: only 2% of adults strongly disagreed, and only 3% even somewhat disagreed, that “naturally occurring nutrients are better for you than nutrients added in processed foods.” The Nutrition Facts panel muddies the waters by bundling together naturally occurring with added nutrients. The shorter the ingredient list, the easier it is for clean label-minded consumers to read between the lines. Food manufacturers can respond by communicating the source, quality and health and nutrition benefits of the products they market and the ingredients that go into them.
David Sprinkle is the research director of Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on related Packaged Facts reports, visit www.PackagedFacts.com.
Herbal ingredients extracted without organic solvents using company’s PhytoClean Method.
Providing manufacturers with an opportunity to offer clean label products to the natural products industry, Mazza Innovation, Summerland British Columbia, Canada, has developed a portfolio of clean ingredients extracted naturally using the company’s PhytoClean Method.
“The growing consumer demand for transparency has uncovered both challenges and opportunities for manufacturers,” said Len Zapalowski, CEO of Mazza Innovation. “The more natural a product is perceived to be, the better consumers feel about putting it in their bodies. Our PhytoClean ingredients are high-quality bioactives extracted without organic solvents—allowing companies to achieve consumer-friendly labels. These bioactive antioxidants provide exciting options that address the emerging needs of the marketplace.”
The PhytoClean Method is Mazza’s patented core technology that yields clean ingredients with an earth-friendly process producing concentrated bioactives from plant materials without using solvents such as ethanol, methanol or acetone, reducing the risk of residual solvents in the ingredients. The PhytoClean Method works by pressurizing water at higher temperatures, lowering the polarity of the water to the levels of ethanol, which increases the water’s ability to solubilize bioactive compounds and causes it to behave like an organic solvent.
“Our unique ‘flow-through’ process pumps this pressurized low-polarity water through the plant material to enable the efficient extraction of bioactives,” said Mr. Zapalowski. “Not only does PhytoClean improve the dissolution properties of water, the high temperature of the water can create a reaction that breaks down plant cell walls and membranes, allowing freer access to the target compounds. Our process can unbind and extract the targeted compounds that would not be recovered with conventional organic solvent extraction methods.”
Mazza’s portfolio includes: PhytoClean Blueberry, a 100% blueberry fruit extract, standardized to 4% or 12% anthocyanins; PhytoClean Cranberry, a 100% cranberry fruit extract, standardized to 8% proanthocyanidins; and PhytoClean Green Tea, a 100% green tea extract, standardized to 30% total polyphenols, 14% total catechins, and 10% epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Containing standardized active compounds, these ingredients are free from carriers or trace solvents.
Available as standardized extracts, or tailored to meet specific formulation requirements, PhytoClean ingredients can be incorporated into a range of functional foods, dietary supplements and beauty products.