When it comes to clean label and consumer perception, the waters are muddy, said Carrie Schroeder, business development, Kerry.

In a recent report from GlobalData, consumers identify the term “clean label” with anything from clear packaging to sustainable manufacturing practices to ingredient labels that are void of ingredients such as artificial flavors and colors.

“We hear mixed messages,” Ms. Schroeder said at SNAXPO, the annual conference and tradeshow for SNAC International, held April 1-4 in Savannah. “No one seems to have a clear definition.”

Ms. Schroeder pointed out that in GlobalData’s research consumers age 45 to 65 are more likely to say they don’t know what clean label means as opposed to those ages 18 to 44. Additionally, the 18 to 44 group identified clean label as something inherent in a food, such as organic or non-G.M.O., and consumers 45 to 65 were more apt to see clean label as something such as artificial color or flavor has been removed.

“At the end of the day, what we’re hearing is that food needs to be cleaned up,” Ms. Schroeder said.

Whether looking for foods that make them feel better or foods they can feel good about eating, consumers are finding value beyond price in clean label. And the No. 1 driving factor for making a repeat purchase, Ms. Schroeder said, is taste.

“Dairy is well-positioned to play in this space,” Ms. Schroeder said, noting that milk, cheese and butter fall in line with whole food identity.

To meet this demand, dairy items can play a role not only as snack items such as yogurt and cheese snacks but also as components of otherwise indulgent or savory snacks.

She pointed out that through premium cheese powders that are sustainably sourced, intensified flavors such as Vermont- or English-style cheese may enhance an extruded snack’s flavor profile without convoluting the ingredient list.

“Dairy is not new to snacking,” Ms. Schroeder said. “But if we think about the evolution and consumers’ expectations of dairy — and the fact that we can deliver on things like sustainability, non-G.M.O. and organic — the game has changed.”