Natural appeal: How cleaner formulations are shaping the NPD agenda
Today’s consumer wants to know exactly what’s in the food and beverages they are buying. They want to see fewer food ingredients on the label. What’s there should be naturally derived, renewable, and produced in a sustainable way.
This all means that manufacturers are under increasing pressure to ensure that the ingredients they use in their products can be easily recognized and understood, and that the processes involved in creating them are as simple as possible. It’s all about minimizing the length of ingredient lists and avoiding additives with chemically sounding, hard to pronounce names. Often it is a matter of going back to the kitchen cupboard and reverting to ingredients that consumers understand and love.
“Consumers want shorter ingredient lists and more recognizable ingredients. They want products that are minimally processed, more natural, and cleaner,” says Trevor Nichols, Food Application Scientist at Brenntag Food & Nutrition North America. “Artificial preservatives are definitely being pushed out and there is a trend towards using naturally sourced alternatives. It is about finding functional ingredients that can fulfill that clean label identity, and be accepted by the consumer,” he adds.
This market background is leading to strong new product development in the clean label space. Innova Market Insights global data shows a steady +5.7% CAGR in new products featuring clean label positionings (no additives/preservatives, natural, organic, non-GMO), from 2014 to 2019. Growth was particularly strong from 2018 to 2019: +8%.
Trending clean label solutions
Ingredients that support the clean label concept are those with no artificial components, freshness, reliable origin, or those that are minimally processed (e.g. functional native stabilizers vs. modified stabilizers).
They include naturally derived preservatives to replace ingredients such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. For example, cultured dextrin and niacin can be used for the natural preservation of foods, vinegar-based solutions offer antimicrobial properties, while rosemary and chamomile extracts can help protect against oxidation, and maintain quality.
Other clean label ingredients include plant-based naturally sourced colors and coloring foods that serve as alternatives to artificial color additives (e.g. Red 40) or non-vegan options (the insect-based coloring carmine).
Enzymes can generally also be considered as clean label, since they can often avoid labeling requirements when functioning as processing aids with emulsifier replacement potential.
Up to the challenge?
But when opting for a full clean label reformulation, there are many technical challenges to take into consideration. These involve the question of how to maintain the same sensorial attributes of the original product, in terms of taste, texture, and shelf-life. At the same time, the solution will typically need to be application specific, with the process adjusted to maintain natural ingredient stability.
Marly highlights some of the challenges involved in shifting from artificial to naturally sourced colors, where pH and water activity must be considered, in addition to the shade of color you are looking for. “When working with artificial colors you can use one color in many different applications, but when it comes to natural colors you have to be application specific. This is because pH can impact color functionality by shifting color shade or causing precipitation,” she explains.
“Fortification with vitamins & minerals can interact with some pigments and cause color shifting or destabilize color emulsions. Other ingredients like flavors & essential oils may degrade color over time. Light exposure in a clear packaging type can impact some natural color shelf-life too,” she notes.
Innovative ingredient development & applications work is required to help achieve the optimum ingredient functionality, even in the most challenging clean label applications. Expectations must be managed at all times, however, because food safety can never be compromised.
But despite the application challenges, the rewards far outweigh the risks, since clean label is a good selling point for the customer. “In the past, cleaner label was nice to have, but now it is a must have for most brands. It is a transition from where natural is the premium and newer ingredient, to now being the effective mainstream,” Trevor notes.
Get in touch
Brenntag Food & Nutrition application work in North America is helping to drive the agenda for on trend new product concepts in the food & beverage arena.
Contact our team today to see how our broad ingredients portfolio and highly experienced applications specialist can help you to clean up your labels, without to sacrifice on aesthetics, organoleptic properties or functionality.