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Clean Label Concepts at IFT2016

The Institute for Food Technology’s annual symposium convenes a diverse group of academic, industrial, and regulatory experts from the food science field. This year, I had the pleasure of attending the IFT conference in Chicago and looked forward to a session on Trends and Ingredient Solutions for Clean Label/Non-GM Sweeteners. One of the session’s speakers was Steve French of the Natural Marketing Institute, who shared insights on both the Clean Label movement and natural alternative sweeteners.

French reported global research conducted in several countries on market trends for consumer behavior related to Clean Label principles. He mentioned several attributes with broad appeal among many health-conscious consumers: purity, simplicity, and shedding unnecessary layers of complexity. In the age of the self-care revolution, French proffered, 77% of survey respondents connected healthy eating to a sense of control over their lives, and carefully reading labels is one behavior consumers employ to achieve that goal.

Consumers pursue ingredients that add value to their purchases, and they’re more conscious than ever about which ones they want to avoid. French noted a movement away from fortified foods and toward whole food sources of nutrition. In essence, the Clean Label movement‘s values can be summed up with easily recognizable ingredients, the elimination of undesired content, and minimal processing efforts. French pointed to numerous key ingredient and nutrition concerns common among Clean Label consumers, including artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives; calorie count; carbohydrates; cholesterol; high fructose corn syrup (HFCS); saturated fat; sodium; and trans fat.


French also connected the Clean Label movement to the subject of sweeteners: a timely topic as, once again, sugar consumption is back in the spotlight with a new Added Sugars line coming to the Nutrition Facts Panel. Once considered a simple solution to reducing sugar consumption, artificial sweetener-based products have lost traction among Clean Label consumers, who drive purchasing trends in another direction. According to French’s data from the Natural Marketing Institute, from 2011-2015 the percentage of consumers expressing concern about negative side effects of artificial sweeteners went up from 53% to 61%. Seeking other non-caloric alternatives, 15-30% of those surveyed reported switching to something different – coinciding with natural, low, and no calorie sweeteners expanding in the market.

As attention to alternative sweeteners grows, Clean Label consumers who eschew artificial options can also struggle with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). French reported another interesting statistic: 57% of surveyed consumers are less likely to purchase a product with genetically modified ingredients, and 33% would stop buying a brand if they discovered it unexpectedly contained GMOs.

Sweetener ingredients made from corn and sugar beet crops with genetically modified traits are currently available on the market, and common sweeteners ingredients such as dextrose, glucose syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, sugar alcohols, and white table sugar may be made from GMO sources. Increased awareness, concern, and controversy around GMOs have undoubtedly affected consumer purchasing behavior, giving other natural sweeteners a leg up in the marketplace. Several sweetener sources on the market identified as alternatives by French were agave, coconut/palm sugar, honey, maple syrup, monk fruit, stevia, and sugar cane – many of which are also mentioned in SPINS’ recent article The New Suite of Sweet, written for Natural Products Insider to examine natural alternatives specifically within the beverage space.

Of these alternatives, stevia has enjoyed about ten years of longevity on the market. Though consumers may not have immediately embraced its unusual flavor, formulations have improved over time. Now stevia features in sweetener blends to growing consumer approval. Stevia and monk fruit combinations, when properly formulated, can provide versatile taste experiences for a bevy of applications. As global demand grows for great tasting non-GMO sweeteners, stevia is more frequently combined with caloric non-GMO sweeteners like organic cane sugar. The blend reduces “Added Sugar” calories while preserving some familiar flavors for consumers whose palates are still catching up to their dietary goals.

French’s lecture gave a valuable look into the less-is-more ethos of Clean Label initiatives, stressing the importance of high quality ingredients and transparency in sourcing which is demanded by a growing faction of today’s consumers. I’m excited to see these issues, so intrinsic to SPINS’ own proprietary attribution, featured prominently at IFT16, and I look forward to watching both supply and demand for Clean Label products grow in the years to come.

Want to know more? Register here for our webinar on Wednesday, November 9, exploring Clean Label and Free-From trends from SPINS’ exclusive data and proprietary attribution.