What's Next After Clean Label?

Clean label isn't going away any time soon, but as processors clear that hurdle what will they have to proclaim or avoid next?

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Clean lifers are passionately worried about chemicals. Studies have uncovered carcinogens even in organic products. Glyphosate, the widely used but controversial agricultural herbicide, was found last summer in trace amounts in a number of foods, including 10 of 11 samples of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, according to the Organic Consumers Assn. As a result, consumers have pressured product manufacturers to seek reassuring certifications that their products are free from such chemicals.

For glyphosate specifically, two groups rose to the occasion. BioChecked (biochecked.com) of Sarasota, Fla., launched its glyphosate-free certification program one year ago. So did The Detox Project (detoxproject.org), a Bulgaria group with a Los Angeles office that started out testing humans for toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Initial queries about its testing program met with "shocking interest in the U.S., and even more in Europe," according to Henry Rowlands, director of the Detox Project. Each firm is largely a marketing organization that outsources the testing to certified laboratories. Both the EPA and FDA started looking into the issue of glyphosate residue in foods but suspended research.

NonGMOProjectNon-GMO certification –whether by the Non-GMO Project, another third-party inspector or proclaimed by the processor itself – is well established. The Non-GMO Project, which has been around since 2007, claims more than 3,000 brands representing over 43,000 products and more than $19.2 billion in sales. While the Non-GMO Project used to be the only satisfactory certification, a number of companies, including Nestle Foods USA, now simply are making their own declarations that their products are GMO-free.

"Clean Lifers enjoy going out and socializing, but they want to be healthy, so many of them are turning their backs on alcohol," notes Kevin Kilcoyne, vice president and general manager of global ingredients at Welch’s Foods. "An opening exists for products such as ‘mocktails’ – stylish beverages that look great and contain delicious and nutritious ingredients."

Diageo Plc, owner of the Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan and Smirnoff brands, recently invested in Seedlip, a sophisticated non-alcoholic spirits maker. Dutch brewer Heineken is only the latest of the major brewers to launch low- or no-alcohol beer, proving major companies see the importance of the increase in sobriety and want to enter the clean living space.

Sustainable practices

Clean labels are also moving beyond a product's health impact and ingredients to its environmental impact, sustainability, ingredient and labor sourcing and company ethics. Nearly half of grocery shoppers participating in a recent EcoFocus Worldwide trends study said they purposely didn't buy products from companies whose practices were not environmentally responsible.

Some 65 percent of Americans interested in food ingredients are urging food manufacturers to more carefully pick and choose product ingredients, reports Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com).

Consumers view sustainability and corporate responsibility — from energy conservation to animal welfare and company treatment of employees — as aspects of quality, not just a “feel-good factor, says the Hartman Group's 2017 Sustainability Report. "Seventy-one percent of consumers say when making purchasing decisions, it's important [product manufacturers] avoid inhumane treatment of animals," the report notes. "Labor and environmental contamination have become more salient issues." The report also says consumers consistently value sustainability attributes such as toxin avoidance, animal, fair labor practices and minimizing pollution.

Food and beverage manufacturers are responding with more public-facing communications about their ingredient sourcing, manufacturing practices, ethics and agricultural partnerships with farmers. General Mills says it's making Annie's snacks using organic ingredients from regenerative farms in Montana, picturing the farmers on Annie's packaging.

Enjoy Life Foods, a leader in the allergen-free category, in April became the first food company in the U.S. to receive Palm Oil Free Certification for its newest product launches. Palm oil is the most used vegetable oil in the world, but "bad players" have tarnished the ingredient's reputation by rampant deforestation, primarily in southeast Asia, endangering protected species of animals and displacing indigenous peoples. Despite the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil's efforts to end such practices, the oil has gotten a black eye, especially in Europe.

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