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What Clean Labels Are Doing To The Food Industry

Gus Carrington

Gus Carrington About The Author

Mar 26, 2019

Less is more, right?

In order to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, a growing number of bakers are adopting a new trend that opts to place “clean” labels on their products.

This is where foods are made with as few ingredients as possible, and the packaging of these products reflects this minimalistic mentality. In particular, artisan bakeries are releasing as simple an ingredient list as possible on their products, and Millennials are taking pride in rejecting chemicals that wouldn’t be found in their own kitchens.

Clean Labels Expose Chemicals in Food

While avoiding synthetic chemicals and artificial ingredients on the surface directly builds trust between these manufacturers and their consumers, this movement has also, in part, spawned a healthy (for lack of a better word) amount of distrust between consumers and any scientific terms in general when talking about food.

For instance, thiamine mononitrate, calcium phosphate and soy lecithin may blind some consumers with their scientific names, but these ingredients make up your run-of-the-mill graham cracker. The same can be said for high fructose corn syrup, potassium chloride, citric acid, monopotassium phosphate and your average tomato soup.

Still, any producer would be hard-pressed to understand if consumers didn’t advocate to keep legitimately weird or esoteric ingredients in the products they consume.

For instance, while the monosodium glutamate institution wants to make sure their ingredient sticks around and is used in the future, companies would be hard-pressed to justify nonstandard ingredients that sound like foreign chemicals.

Looking For Answers

“Why were they in any food products to begin with?”

That’s the kind of question supporters are attempting to answer. Clean-label.com has been questioning what raw materials in food are suitable for consumption for the past 10 years. Their researchers haven’t been able to find any satisfying answers on the internet so far.”

The general takeaway seems to be that consumers are taking a stand for a new level of transparency, and unless that stand is met with a mindset change in the management behind products in the baking industry, issues could come forward for the bakeries that don’t rise to the challenge.

Some of the pushback for the clean label trend has been visible on trade show floors. Some producers are asking why they have to make a change to begin with and why people suddenly want this change. The simple answer is if the market prefers clean labels, it makes sense to follow that market rather than assume this is a trend that may not last.

In fact, clean labels were referred to as the “big trend in 2012,” according to Foodprocessing.com, and were projected by the Baking Association of Canada in 2013 to be just as big in 2014. They were. Now, nearly five years later, clean labels have only picked up steam. Another Canadian source pegged that 75 to 90 percent of consumers read ingredient labels.

Adapting To The Clean Label Method

So how does a producer quickly adapt to this increasingly emboldened need for transparency? Do they have to buy new equipment? Specifically speaking, if they’re going to take out the mold inhibitor and the anti-caking agent and replace that powder with vinegar and sugar, can they (in the meantime) manually dump those ingredients into equipment they already have access to?

Vinegar and sugar are quite often handled as hand additives anyway, and the producer in question would probably end up having to at least change something in their plant because every plant approaches these functions differently.

In a lot of cases, there’s also the “goodie bag” of all the minor ingredients that are weighed up in a separate location and dumped into a mixer manually. It’s possible that adapting to clean label ingredients would no longer change that procedure and a plant may end up having some sort of a liquid lance or liquid process that could be added and automate the currently manual process. All of this does depend on the plant itself.

When any bakery or producer makes these changes, they also want to make sure that their basic quality and characteristics of products have not been altered with the addition or deletion of these particular ingredients. Realistically there should be a trial and error period taken into account where getting the right amount, doing some lab work and some quality work was acknowledged.

This is essential to making sure that before any producer made a wholesale change on the production line and spent the money to make those process changes, the producer in question would be comfortable in what the new recipe was, as well as comfortable with how exactly the process for its implementation needs to be executed.

Time For A Change

Even though bakeries face simultaneous challenges while adapting to clean labels (such as producing cost-effective and great-tasting food that also retains a long shelf life) the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” doesn’t apply to food manufacturers and the growing clean label demand in 2019.

In fact, in this context, remaining reluctant to these changes offers a short-term, short-sighted view of the world. Consumer expectations are changing. In many circles, they’re spending the extra money for high quality (and healthy) products. Many consumers demand clean foods. Continuing to sell a medium-quality product, instead of making it as great as it possible, doesn't make sense.

What’s the difference between these medium- and high-quality products? Real-world testing. The laboratory is one thing, but the real world is completely different.

If any plant really did a good job up front, it should be completely transparent. In many cases, simple is better, and moving in the clean label direction is the transparent way to change with the food industry market right now. Product labeling is a very important part of the food and beverage industry.

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