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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Enjoy Life's move is an interesting one -- it simply replaced palm oil with other oils – and is not much different than replacing aspartame with stevia -- but getting certified by some World Aspartame-Free Organization. But the marketing value is priceless. "Our goal is to demonstrate that there are opportunities to create delicious foods without having to utilize an ingredient that increasingly more consumers are looking to avoid,” says Joel Warady, general manager and chief sales & marketing officer at Enjoy Life Foods – and a member of Food Processing's Editorial Advisory Board.

Hershey recently announced a $500 million investment to build a sustainable cocoa supply in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and aims to acquire only certified and sustainable cocoa by 2020. In March, Mondelez announced the Oreo brand would be covered by its sustainable cocoa sourcing program, Cocoa Life. Nestle, Mars and every major chocolate processor have similar programs, as the growing demand for cocoa collides with the decreasing numbers of cocoa farmers, especially in developing nations, where most cocoa is grown.

According to one report, most cocoa farmers survive on less than $2 per day. As a result, few new farmers are choosing that life. “Unless the cocoa sector fundamentally changes, there will be no future cocoa farmers,” says Antonie Fountain, managing director of the Voice Network and the Cocoa Barometer. But the sector is changing: By 2015, 16 percent of chocolate sales globally were made with certified sustainable cocoa, up from 2 percent in 2009.

Like most larger food and beverage processors, General Mills has outlined several transparency goals by releasing energy conservation reports and data addressing a range of sustainability and environmental issues. “We are investing in the preservation of natural resources our business and the global population depend upon," noted Jeff Harmening, chairman and CEO of General Mills in a recent report. "Consumers increasingly demand food that reflects their values, from a company they trust. We believe using our scale for good is good for them, good for our business and good for the planet we share."

The meat industry has been facing criticism over issues such as climate change, use of antibiotics and hormones and environmental concerns, but especially over animal cruelty. As a result, consumers search for animal welfare claims, such as grass-fed, free-range and cage-free, on meat packages. Meat companies are providing more information on sourcing, processing, farm practices, ethics, animal diets and animal welfare.

Sales of conventional meat without any clean label claims have basically flatlined, observes Anne-Marie Roerink, a principal with 210 Analytics. Household meat consumption studies show consumers are most aware of the natural claim, followed by hormone-free and antibiotic-free, free-range, humanely raised and vegetarian-fed. "Millennials are much more likely to act on these claims," Roerink says.

These are challenging times for the industry as it investigates where clean label goes from here. Free-from formulations will likely continue, but expanding beyond GMOs, gluten and other allergens to include glyphosate, maybe even aspartame. Technology is developing to support consumers' thirst for knowledge about their foods and drinks.

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