Special edition: All-natural: How clean is your label?

Natural preservatives pack efficacy, marketing punch

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Clean label Preservative

Kalsec's line of natural antioxidants is based on rosemary extract.
Kalsec's line of natural antioxidants is based on rosemary extract.
The term ‘natural’ has been used to mean so many things that it means less all the time, except as a starting point for class action lawsuits.  But tell consumers you’re getting rid of artificial preservatives and you’ve telling them something meaningful, experts say.

Replacing artificial antioxidants and antimicrobials can be a challenge from a formulation standpoint, but it’s a no brainer from a market perspective.  It’s what end users are clamoring for, and what manufacturers are seeking from their suppliers.

“The term ‘natural’ is so nebulous and so varied in what it means that that translates to confusion to the consumer,”​ Gary Augustine, executive director of market development at Kalsec told FoodNavigator-USA. Kalsec is a Kalamazoo, MI-based supplier of natural colors, flavors and a line of natural antioxidant preservative solutions based on rosemary extract.

“The food and beverage processors are looking for ways to make those claims more concrete and quantifiable and ‘no added preservatives’ is a more concrete way to communicate to the consumers something that is of benefit to them. One in four new products being developed has some type of a natural claim associated with it.  One of the most popular categories is no additives and preservatives,” ​he said.

“It certainly doesn’t seem to be a fad.  The market has had good growth. We continue to see our customers ask for new natural solutions,”​ said Matthew Hundt, global product manager at DuPont Danisco. “We have actually seen out customers moving away from claiming natural in a lot of cases but still wanting to clean up the label.

In general what DuPont offers on the antimicrobial side of the business is much more geared toward natural and clean label,” he said.

Food that won't rot

After the initial flowering of industrial food chemistry that made a wide array of shelf stable products available, consumers have become increasingly leery of the artificial preservatives that make that possible.  Stories of years-old Twinkies that still looked like new and of hot dogs emerging almost unscathed from landfills made some consumers start to wonder, what is that stuff doing in my body?  And those preservatives hide at the end of labels, camouflaged under innocuous looking acronyms.

“The synthetic preservative and antioxidant manufacturers have done a great job in (getting authorities to allow) for the shortening of their names from a chemical name to an abbreviated name.  If the consumer really had to read what was in that stuff, all hell would break loose, so to speak,”​ Augustine said.

Natural R&D

Natural preservatives are as old as food itself.  Olive oil was a staple of the ancient world not only because but the trees grew well along the margins of the Mediterranean, but also because the oil kept relatively well and could be shipped. Recent research and development has refined and targeted the capabilities of preservatives derived from natural sources.

Creagri, based in Haward, CA, is one company that has developed an anitmicrobial from a natural source with its Hidrox ingredient that is derived from olive wastewater. The resulting ingredient, high in hydroxytyrosol, can be used as an antioxidant supplement ingredient, but is also an effective antimicrobial at lower doses.

“If you see some of the tests that have been done with Hidrox with independent organizations, such as the USDA, you find that across the board it performs better in against  the four or five major food pathogens, such as salmonella, listeria and ecoli. You find that  this natural bioactive nutrient compound performs better,”​ said Paolo Pontoniere, Creagi’s communications chief.

Natural preservative solutions don’t always show such stellar results, but can equal or even exceed their peers depending on the application.

“It really depends on the application in terms of what you are trying to accomplish,”​ said Kalsec’s Augustine. “In many cases, particularly in fats and oils, we can mimic the performance of a synthetic. It does take higher dosage levels of the natural antioxidant to perform at a similar level, but we can achieve that performance with no adverse effects.

“An additional advantage is that regulations typically limit the maximum level of a synthetic antioxidants in various applications. That maximum limit may or may not be to enough offer the necessary protective effect.  On the other hand, there is no limit to the usage of a natural antioxidant,” ​said Roger Nahas, PhD, Kalsec’s director of R&D for food and beverage.

Targeted solutions

Specificity is key, DuPont’s Hundt said. Tailored solutions are common in the natural sphere, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach more common to the application of artificial solutions.

“It really depends on the application and the microbial challenge those customers might have. That can be specific down to a customer’s plant or even down to a particular production line,”​ he said.

“Where customers are seeking to have more natural solutions or less chemicals; they should realize it is difficult to have one to one replacement and reformulation is sometimes necessary. Also food safety cannot be compromised especially in case the product tends to be less processed as a result of a more natural and authentic product,”  ​said Ivo van der Linden, category manager for food presertion for Purac, a global natural preservatives company with headquarters in the Netherlands.

But sometimes the shorter shelf life that is implied when manufacturers choose a natural preservative solution is all to the good.  Remember those Twinkies?

“Shelf life plays a  big role. If they are looking at a 90 day shelf life on a meat product, that’s going to have a stronger challenge than a product that is fresher and is going to be consumed within 10 days or so,”​ Hundt said.

“Consumers don’t want a ‘fresh’ salsa that has a shelf  life of 60 days.  They are buying ‘fresh’ salsa because it’s going to expire in a week,”​ he said.

Trend will only grow

Overall, the experts agree that the trend toward natural and cleaner labels will only grow, at least as far as the preservative end of that label is concerned.

“Consumers are looking for transparency of what’s in their products and that’s a trend that we don’t see going away,”​ Augustine said.

“The vast majority of our R&D spend goes into natural food protection. Our R&D dollar is all in natural or cleaner label type of products. It’s where we see the growth but it’s also where the company wants to be,”​ said Hundt.

And Creagri’s Pontoniere said he sees clean label movement developoing further, and becoming a way for companies to connect more firmly with their customers.

“The clean label will become a way for the consumer to get into the production process and understand the science behind the ingredient, and understand that it’s safe, it’s effective, it’s pure and it’s clean. I see an increasing degree of sophistication. You’ll the place of origin of the ingredient. We are just at the beginning of where clean label will go. We will see much more coming as technology evolves,”​ he said.

Stay up to date with the latest trends in natural and clean label at Natural & Clean Label Trends 2013, a FREE-to-attend online event run by FoodNavigator.com and FoodNavigator-USA.com on June 26. 

For full details and to register, click here​.

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