At this year’s Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and exposition, held in Las Vegas June 25-28, clean label was a common theme among the latest ingredients on the show floor. Whether reducing sugars, packing products full of nutrients or providing improved functionality, label-friendly was a priority in developing many of these solutions.
Consumers who read the ingredient list are still looking for ingredients they recognize and that they deem natural.
“As consumers get smarter they are pushing toward whole foods and ingredients with purpose,” said John Stephanian, director, culinary development, Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients.
This shopper scrutiny of the label has food manufacturers also scrutinizing their formulations.
“From a labeling standpoint, customers are looking at the ingredients they want to use,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, Ingredion, in regard to reducing sugar. “Sugar alcohols are off the table. Artificial sweeteners are off the table.”
And it’s not limited to sweeteners either. Emulsifiers, fats and other functional ingredients are under the microscope, and developers are looking for ways to offer cleaner alternatives that provide the same functionality in commercial production and in the final product. Taking those common ingredients off the table causes some processing challenges that must be addressed in these new ingredients.
“Consumers want transparency, but they want to enjoy the products, too,” said Kathy Sargent, market director, Bakery, Corbion. “You can take out SSL and DATEM, but the product still has to go through commercial processing and maintain consistency and quality consumers expect.”
In developing a clean label protein isolate MGP Ingredients introduced at IFT17, the company had to find a way to provide the same functionality expected from wheat protein isolate without the sulfites.
“We discovered a non-G.M.O. agent that mimics the sulfites’ functionality,” said Ody Maningat, Ph.D., vice-president of ingredient R.&D. and chief science officer, MGP Ingredients. “It required a lot of trial and error to duplicate those properties.”
A common answer to the need for cleaning up labels found on the show floor was plant-based ingredients. Cargill and Beneo were showcasing chicory root fiber as a sugar reduction alternative.
“Consumer data shows that consumers give positive feedback when they see chicory root fiber on the label,” said Andy Estal, technical manager, Beneo.
Also entering the clean label sweetener game, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients introduced attendees to its Carolina Sweet product, a non-G.M.O. vegan sweetener made from sweet potatoes. The syrup provides a clean label alternative that also can deliver on vegetable serving claims.
Clean label, like natural, is a concept that can be vague and difficult to pin down.
“The struggle is in defining it,” said Andrew Scribner, vice-president and general manager, Kraft Heinz Ingredients. “Everyone has their own definition. We lean on our customers’ definitions of clean label and deliver what they need.”
To discover consumers’ thoughts on the matter, Kemin Food Technologies partnered with Harris Poll to conduct research on consumer attitudes toward the ingredient list. What the study found was that consumers prefer shorter ingredients lists with fewer sodium-containing words.
“By understanding consumer trends, we’re able to shape our product portfolio to meet industry needs,” said Courtney Schwartz, senior marketing communication manager, Kemin. The company launched a domestically-grown, organic rosemary extract at IFT17 to meet demand for organic, clean label ingredients. Kemin also promoted the use of its GT FORT green tea extract as a way to clean up fats and oils in bakery formulations.