Clean label: minefield or goldmine?
Vaguely defined, unscientific but based on real consumer wants: getting behind the marketing hype of clean label.
I first came across the concept of clean label in the very late 1980s. I was working in the starch industry and developing products which included chemically modified starches. If these ingredients were included in products, they were shown on the product label with an E number. E numbers were assigned to a wide range of ingredients and some of these ingredients were being highlighted in the popular press as ‘not good for you’. It was found that starches could be modified with heat and pressure to have identical properties to that of chemically modified starch. The physically modified starch did not need to be listed with an E number.
Nowadays, there is a trend for consumers wishing to know how the product was made and the ingredients which make up the product. Some production methods are perceived as less ‘natural’, such as freeze drying, while some food ingredients are perceived as ‘unhealthy’, for example, chemically produced flavours.
These perceptions have given rise to a so-called ‘clean label’ trend. Marketeers and product developers highlight product attributes like organic, ‘only natural’ ingredients and sustainable sourcing to drive the consumer perception of clean label.
Approaching a definition
It has been suggested by Asioli et al1) that a definition of clean label should encompass a visual evaluation by consumers of the ‘cleanliness’ of a product from both the front and back of pack labels, by assumption and inference, as well as by closer inspection.
Although ‘healthiness’ is a major purchasing motive, there are many drivers which influence the perception of clean label. Both intrinsic properties, like nutrition, health-promoting and sensory attributes, and extrinsic characteristics, like sustainability, labels and certificates, and health claims can come into play.
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