Comprehensible labels that clearly state the ingredients and are clear in what they mean. Clean labelling answers this need. Evelyne Minneboo of KTBA People in Food explains why this need is so great and what clean labels actually are and what they can look like.
Food labels that are comprehensible for consumers are the new norm. ‘Clean label’ labels accede to the demand for clear labels with recognisable ingredients. Clean label is often used as an umbrella term for everything that is of interest to the consumer. These labels, for example, claim that a product is ‘natural’ or ‘free of additives’. Moreover, products with clean labelling contain little to no E-numbers or ingredients that are unknown to the majority of consumers. Ingredients that sound chemical don’t appear on clean labels very often.
This penchant for recognisability isn’t unexpected, as can be seen in recent study by research companies KANTAR TNS and XTC World Innovation. This research was carried out in in 2016 commissioned by the French Sial, that organises a biannual food fair. This research showed that consumer trust in the quality of foods from amongst others France, Spain, Great Britain and the United States dropped from 85 percent to 83 percent between 2012 and 2016. This decline can be attributed to the food scandals in Russia and China such as rotten meat, fake eggs and prohibited milk ingredients, according to KANTAR TNS. Consumers growing sense of health awareness leads to more interest in labels that emphasise the presence of natural ingredients.
These food scandals also explain the growing popularity of organic products. In 2012, 48 percent of the consumers in among others France, Spain, Great Britain and the United States indicated they gladly buy organic products. This percentage increased to 53 percent in 2016. The consumers’ growing health awareness also ensures for more interest in labels which stress the presence of natural ingredients. This percentage increased from 50 percent in 2012 to 54 percent in 2016.
More and more food producers and developers have started indicting chemically sounding ingredients as E-numbers on labels, instead of the chemically sounding name, in reaction to this type of research. Also, E-numbers are more often replaced by more natural ingredients. Claims such as ‘natural’ are therefore an important marketing component of labels. Despite the lack of specific regulations on such claims in the European or Dutch Law, The Advertising Code Committee (Reclame Code Commissie – RCC) has made various ruling to prevent misleading on labels.
An example of such a ruling can be found with Holy Soda. The soda’s packaging states ‘Holy Soda low calorie & 100% natural’. A consumer disagreed with the ‘100% natural’ claim, because the product contains steviol glycosides (stevia). The RCC concluded that the explanatory note on the label stating that it is ‘naturally sweetened with stevia extract’ and ‘this is derived from a plant’ offer sufficient transparency for the consumer.
Labels more often state just what isn’t in a product, besides omitting E-numbers and making use of claims. This is also an example of clean labelling. A ‘free from expo’ took place in June 2016 in Amsterdam. In a press release the organisation indicated that more than 250 exhibitors showcased the latest developments in the ‘free from’ segment. This ‘free from’ sector is on the rise in Europa.
There are many other forms of clean labelling than mentioned here. Clean labelling plays an ever-increasing role in both in product development as in marketing of foods.
Diaz, J. (2016). A Clear Label Strategy for Food Additives. The world of food ingredients. Accessed https://www.tno.nl/media/8754/a_clear_label_strategy_for_food_additives.pdf
SIAL. (2016, 7 September). VERTIGES DE L’ASSIETTE LES NOUVEAUX PARADIGMES CONSOMMATEURS [press release]
RCC 15 September 2015, file 2015/00862
Free from food expo. (2016). A Free From Revolution! More visitors and exhibitors than ever before at Free From/Functional Food Expo [press release].