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How to Deliver Functional Health Benefits in a Clean Label Way

Albion Minerals®
Clean Label Clean Label

Most Americans—82 percent of them in fact—now believe that a clean label, a phrase referring to demand for ingredient lists that are short and contain natural, recognizable ingredients, is important, according to a recent survey of more than 700 consumers.* Consumers have expanded their definition of a healthy food beyond traditional nutrition, and the research shows it. The research, commissioned by Kerry, found that 75 percent of U.S. shoppers consider ingredients while grocery shopping, and 66 percent read the nutrition facts label. These findings demonstrate that clean label is no longer an emerging force; it is the new normal.

The trend in favor of clean labels is most pronounced among younger consumers. Forty-six percent of respondents aged 18-34 (Millennials) and 44 percent of respondents aged 35 to 44 said they would not buy foods or drinks that were not clean label. Among respondents aged 45 to 64 and 65-plus, the corresponding figures were 30 and 27 percent. That so many younger consumers are committed to clean label is a clear indication that not only is it a key trend today, but it will almost certainly stay a central focus for consumers for many years to come.

The survey also found that younger respondents were prepared to pay more for natural food and drink products, with 88 percent of Millennials and 79 percent of 35 to 44s stating this view. In comparison, 66 percent of 45 to 64s, while 61 percent of those aged 65 or over would be willing to do so—although this is still a very high proportion of consumers. As such, not only is embracing clean label important to avoid alienating shoppers, but it could also be a profitable move from a commercial perspective.

Ingredients From a Familiar Source

The findings from Kerry’s survey are in line with research conducted elsewhere. GlobalData, for example, reports that 94 percent of consumers are interested in food and beverages with a ‘natural’ claim. According to Nielsen, meanwhile, sales of products that make “all natural” claims are up 7.8 percent and sales of products that claim “no additives or artificial ingredients” are up 8 percent. Research & Markets has forecasted that the global market for clean label ingredients will grow at a CAGR of around 7.6 percent over the next decade to reach a value of approximately $58.7 billion by 2025.

While the term “clean label” is not (yet) legally defined, experts generally agree that it means a product made with ingredients produced from a source which consumers will be familiar with. Products that sound synthetic or over-processed will usually fall foul of the clean label trend. The more obviously natural an ingredient is, the more closely it will fit with the clean label trend.

So, what can product manufacturers do to make sure they create products that will appeal to label-conscious shoppers looking for natural products? The first step is to eliminate ingredients that are a turn off. In Kerry’s research, it was found that the ingredients consumers wished to avoid most were high-fructose corn syrup, titanium dioxide and MSG. Acids, nitrites and nitrates, phosphates and modified corn starch also appeared on the lists from survey respondents. Removal of negatively perceived ingredients like these—and others—are a key part of ensuring a product is perceived as “clean” in a consumer’s eye.

Preferences can vary quite widely by age group and product category, too.

In the savory snacking category, for example, Kerry’s research found that Millennials ranked palm oil as the third most undesirable ingredient, while Boomers ranked it 14th. Conversely, Boomers considered maltodextrin to be the third most unacceptable ingredient, while Millennials ranked it 12th.

Almost 15 percent of Millennials deemed “natural flavors” as unacceptable in savory snacks, while just 5 percent of Boomers felt the same way. The useful insight here is to know your target consumers. You may need to adjust your formulation depending on which age demographic you are aiming to appeal to.

Delivering Health Benefits the Clean Label Way

Having eliminated these “no-no’s,” the next step is to consider how positive health benefits can be delivered via natural ingredients. Despite “no-no” ingredients getting a lot of the clean label spotlight in worldwide media, Kerry research shows nutrition is still critical when consumers are evaluating if a product is healthy or not. A short, simple ingredient list is not enough for some product categories.

The goal is to identify clean label ingredients that are truly effective. There is little to be gained from utilizing a natural ingredient to deliver a health benefit if it isn’t shown by science to deliver a real health benefit. At the same time, consumers are likely to be deterred from buying a product if the active ingredients are not derived from a recognizable source. As a result, in today’s clean label era, consumers shopping for wellness products are demanding effective ingredients that are backed by science, but which are also natural. This lays down a challenge to manufacturers to formulate products made with ingredients that can offer a combination of both.

Clean Label Nutrition Backed by Science

Achieving this is not always easy. Taking the immune health category as an example, it is fair to say that many immune health ingredients lack compelling scientific proof of efficacy. However, it’s not impossible. For example, Wellmune is a natural food, beverage and supplement ingredient clinically proven to help strengthen the immune system. Wellmune is extracted from the cell wall of a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast. As such, it easily satisfies demand for natural functional ingredients. But does it deliver on efficacy? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

Beta glucans vary with respect to branching structure and the understanding of that structure’s health benefits. Although beta glucans have long been utilized for targeted health benefits, what differentiates Wellmune is its proprietary extraction process, its 1,3/1,6 structure and the significant body of published, peer-reviewed research supporting its ability to help improve immune health across all ages. Specifically, numerous clinical studies have consistently demonstrated Wellmune’s health benefits, including its ability to help maintain overall physical health, protect against the harmful effects of stress, and promote healthy energy levels and mental clarity.

Probiotic bacteria, produced via fermentation, are a natural ingredient solution for digestive and immune health, which are both in demand with consumers. Not all probiotics have the same benefits or are supported by documented scientific benefits, but Kerry’s unique strain, GanedenBC30, can call on more than 25 published studies that demonstrate its efficacy, safety and functional benefits. GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) is a spore former, a naturally dormant probiotic that can withstand many conditions such as heat, pressure and extreme acid or alkaline conditions, any of which may kill vegetative bacterial cells (of which many common probiotic strains are). This means it can be incorporated into a wider range of products than just yogurt, including baked and frozen products.

The appeal of naturally effective functional ingredients is clear to see: between them, GanedenBC30 and Wellmune are incorporated into more than 1,000 products worldwide.

Highlighting Natural Credentials

With so many consumers checking labels, it makes sense to emphasise your product’s natural credentials. Claims such as “made with natural ingredients” are strong signifiers of clean label status. In the nutrition category, as well as showcasing functional ingredients’ benefits to health, it is a good idea to highlight their natural origin in a way that is straightforward for consumers to understand.

While delivering scientifically documented health benefits via natural ingredients is challenging, it is far from impossible. As we have seen, ingredients do exist which satisfy both criteria, and which offer a way forward for nutrition products today’s consumers will find appealing. NIE

*The findings from Kerry’s consumer research are described in more detail in ‘Beyond the Label: The Clean Food Revolution.’ To obtain a free copy of this report visit www.kerrycleanlabel.com.


Nathan Pratt, PhD, RD completed his doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where his research focused on weight management, nutrition labelling and consumer behavior. He is a member of Kerry’s nutrition science team and is responsible for supporting internal and external scientific communications.

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