“New consumer research we have been doing shows that the definition of ‘clean label’ is changing, and is becoming more multidimensional with the biggest new layer being you don’t want to focus just on the label deck and removing things, but you also want to look at what extra benefits you can add as well,” said Renetta Cooper, technical business development director of food protection and fermentation ingredients at Kerry.
“If you are looking only at removing things from the label, then you are probably missing a bigger opportunity by linking your product to some other kinds of functional claims” by replacing unwanted ingredients with ones that consumers perceive as healthier, she explained to FoodNavigator-USA at IFT’s annual summit in Chicago earlier this month.
For example, she noted that in processed meat the three biggest “no-no ingredients” across generations are nitrites and nitrates, high fructose corn syrup and MSG. But simply removing these is no longer enough to win over shoppers – they also are looking at what manufacturers use instead.
In the case of high fructose corn syrup, products that were formulated with honey, sugar and maple syrup are more likely to win over consumers than those that are made with “chemical-sounding sweeteners such as erythritol, acesulfame K, xylitol and sorbitol,” according to a survey of more than 760 Americans conducted by Kerry.
Consumers want to know more before they vote on an ingredient
What this research suggests is that consumers no longer evaluate ingredients simply as yes or no, but rather yes and why, Cooper said.
“Consumers want to know, why is that clean? Why is that ingredient included,” she said.
To an extent this gives manufacturers a bit more wiggle room to explain why an unfamiliar ingredient is included in a product, but even still “we are probably not going to be able to replace them with something that is really chemical sounding,” Cooper said.
“Consumers are concerned about the ingredients in the label deck, but they are also willing to be educated about something that is not from the kitchen cupboard as long as they understand where it comes from,” she explained.
Stevia is an interesting case study because it is natural, albeit highly processed, and in some consumers’ pantries, but others are not familiar with it and without education they are likely to shun it, according to Kerry’s research on consumer taste preferences on sweeteners.
Consumers want value-added ingredients
As consumers begin to evaluate more closely which ingredients are replacing undesirable ones, they are starting to look for added benefits that will increase the value proposition of the product, according to Kerry research.
Kerry is helping its customers meet this demand by expanding its portfolio of functional ingredients with the recent addition of Wellmune, for immunity boosting, and GanedenBC30 probiotics for digestive health.
Both ingredients have strong track records, but under Kerry’s ownership their position is becoming even stronger, thanks to new research.
“We are investing heavily in research, so that in the last year we published two more research papers about Wellmune,” Donald Cox, R&D director at Kerry, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“One study demonstrated that Wellmune had benefits for people of normal or average fitness,” he said, explaining that often ingredient studies are tested on athletes or in sports related studies. “In this study, we made sure that we had people who were average or slightly below average fitness level, and we still demonstrated that when they are under physical stress, or exercise, they saw benefits on their immune system from Wellmune versus a placebo.”
The other study looked closer at the mechanism of action and how Wellmune impacts the permeability of the intestines, and found that Wellmune also helped to keep the “bad things out and the good things in,” Cox said.
Kerry also is studying the benefits of GanedenBC30 in populations outside of the US, which is where most research to date has focused.
“When you go around the world and look at different diets they are very different from the typical Western diet, and we want to know how GanadenBC30 will fit with those functional foods in order to better serve those geographies as well,” Cox said.
Reflecting on this research and Kerry’s focus on functional and clean ingredients, Cooper added that Kerry is well equipped to help manufacturers navigate the incremental changes in the definition of clean label that consumers already have taken as well as those they will continue to take in the future.