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The Definition of Clean Label may be Hazy, but Sales Growth is Clear to See

<p>Although no widespread definition exists for &#8220;clean label" products, a general consensus suggests they carry shorter, simpler ingredients listings, and embody the sustained drive by companies to remove artificial ingredients.</p>

What exactly constitutes a clean-label product? There are various theoretical definitions, but many of these fail in a practical sense to highlight what tangible parameters the clean-label movement should include and exclude. In the food and drink industry, a general consensus exists that “clean label" relates to shorter, simpler ingredients listings, and encompasses the sustained drive by companies to remove artificial ingredients from products.

In an effort to quantify consumer demand for clean label—and lacking a regulated definition—Euromonitor International’s Ethical Labels system views clean label through the prism of physical packaging claims—specifically claims relating to “all natural" and “no artificial additives, colours, flavours, preservatives or sweeteners." It also encompasses “no monosodium glutamate (MSG)," “genetically modified organism (GMO)-free" and “Bisphenol A (BPA)-free."

Deriving a practical definition from conflicting opinions, while challenging, is an important step forward in quantifying in value terms just how substantial clean-label demand is across various markets. One such market, the UK, is showing impressive clean-label retail sales—valued at US$17 billion in 2015 across packaged food, soft drinks and hot drinks. The United States is also seeing demand take hold, with sales worth US$56 billion in 2015, with 22 percent of sales coming from soft and hot drinks and 78 percent generated by packaged food.

No longer are clean-label claims residing in specific or niche categories. Companies are intent on displaying clean-label attributes prominently on products that may traditionally have been perceived as unhealthy and highly processed. Essentially this means categories such as savoury snacks and confectionery are now, rather surprisingly, key influencers in clean-label growth.

Identifying what is driving demand requires analysis of key milestones, such as a fear of artificial colours in the UK. This stemmed from academic research conducted at the University of Southampton, controversially linking hyperactivity in children to several of these ingredients.

Out of public view, leading companies took note and sought to reformulate and rise to this consumer demand. There has been a surge in notable commitments made by major food players, including Mondelez, General Mills, Kellogg, Hershey and Nestlé, among others, to remove these artificial ingredients from their brands in the coming years.

Adequately conveying the clean-label message to consumers is another crucial element of easing shopper’s concerns. It is likely that larger players will invest in innovative ways to communicate clean-label attributes. SmartLabel technology will no doubt play a part, as tech-savvy Millennial consumers look beyond physical packaging claims to apps and other Internet platforms for product information—and there are many who feel that clear label, or transparent packaging, is something consumers want to see. As the trend shows no sign of slowing and clean-label products become the norm in several markets, industry voices ponder just what the future of clean label will hold.

Alan Rownan will discuss the topic of clean labelling at the Vitafoods Europe Conference on Wednesday 11 May 2016, from 11.55am. Click the link to find out more about the conference.

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