Over Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16, nearly 100 people gathered at the Palmer House Hilton to attend Clean Label Product Innovation. This pre-event short course—one of 11 offered during IFT16—provided attendees with the latest ingredient and processing solutions to develop safe and successful clean label products.
“Clean label is a very relevant and compelling topic today,” said presenter Terry A. Clark, and course director Maria Del Pilar Cobos agreed. “IFT is always trying to be in tune with the needs of its members and has a good read on what trends affect the industry and the direction of applied science,” she said. “When consumers indicate they want less processed foods and know what is on a label, the traditional toolbox that food scientists have been using becomes more limited, so the idea is to provide an assessment of the situation and potential solutions.”
On Friday, Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, began the course with some insight into the shift toward clean label, offering the perspective of the marketplace and sharing what consumers have to say about clean label. “This isn’t a trend for everyone—not everything can be clean label, but the trend is growing in importance and isn’t going to go away,” she said, though consumers don’t necessarily understand what the terminology means. She urged companies to focus on educating them about what ingredients are being used and why to help alleviate what she called “factory fear,” or the idea that there are harmful and unnecessary ingredients in their foods. “There’s no downside in helping consumers understand what’s in a product and why it’s there,” she said.
IFT Past President Roger Clemens, adjunct professor in the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, focused on the difficulty of communicating food science to consumers. “Processed food has saved the world,” he said, but consumers don’t understand the value of the ingredients in the foods they eat. Because there is no regulatory definition of clean label, what it means to manufacturers has to do with consumer perception of what ingredients are good for them. Some companies are committing to removing certain ingredients to comply with consumer demand, though Clemens pointed out that Nestlé has been careful to explain that these changes do not have to do with science. He advised companies in the industry to establish continuity in how they are using clean label terminology, asking, “How do we harmonize so the industry isn’t shooting itself in the foot?”
During the rest of the day, instructors delved into the specifics associated with clean label in various ingredient categories. Pernille B. Arskog, commercial technical manager, North America, at Chr. Hansen, provided insight into formulation considerations relating to natural colors, including how light, heat, pH, processing, and packaging can affect color’s stability and vibrancy over time and reviewed some options formulators have when switching to natural colors. Though it currently costs 10–20 times more for a natural color than a synthetic one, she hopes that advances in technology will help bring costs down over time. Ravi Joshi, strategic business development director at Magrabar, provided an overview of antifoam and defoamers, which help prevent or control foam during processing or use of a product, and Wanda Jurlina, technical service manager at CP Kelco, discussed hydrocolloids and the individual functions of the various thickening and gelling agents, highlighting options that would be suitable for clean label products and leading the class through a demonstration of just how differently they can behave in the same environments.
Mark Stavro, global marketing director at Bunge, explored clean label trends in fats and oils, presenting his ideas about how the trend might evolve over the few years, such as tracing oils to a region or farm and drawing on minimal processing methods with little waste. Using margarine and shortening as examples, he demonstrated how manufacturers could eliminate or adjust certain ingredients to create cleaner labels, something he said Unilever is working on and that Earth Balance does well. Ingredion technical services manager Heidi Adams and Diana Nieto, principal technologist, technical services, US/Canada, closed out the day, discussing clean label sweeteners and starches. Adams outlined options for non-GM sweeteners consumers will readily accept, such as honey and agave, discussing the properties and challenges of each, and Nieto shed insight into the possibility of using functional native starches in place of modified food starches.
Saturday began with a discussion of natural flavors from Jennifer Hoffman, senior manager of regulatory affairs at FONA International. Clean is a continuum, not a checkbox, she said; because clean is not a defined concept, she advised companies to do as her company has done and think about what ingredients must always be present, can never be present, and will sometimes be present in a clean label product, some of which will be dictated by customers’ own interpretations of clean. Consumers don’t understand the term clean, she said, but they are looking for simple, non-GM, and organic claims, and by explaining these claims to consumers in nonscientific language they can understand, companies can encourage consumer loyalty. “Verified claims build trust,” she explained.
When it comes to bioactive ingredients such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and carotenoids, the industry is being forced to go backward in how it creates these health-boosting ingredients to meet clean label demands, said Mario Ferruzzi, professor of food science and nutrition at Purdue University. Fractionating, modifying, and refining these nonnutritive compounds is no longer accepted for today’s clean label products, and formulating has evolved to consider more natural sourcing that includes whole foods and extracts. In addition, because interactions between bioactives from these sources and the food matrix can present problems within food systems, he advised formulators to think about starting from scratch when creating products with bioactive compounds.
The morning was rounded out by sessions about proteins and protein blending and alternative preservatives for use in meat products. Laurice Pouvreau, senior scientist at NIZO, spoke about the possibilities that protein offers in formulations. Formulators must be aware of how using proteins to replace ingredients such as carbohydrates will affect the overall product, as well as understand the amino acid compositions of the proteins being used, particularly when designing foods for different population groups such as infants. Mixing proteins together to create protein blends can also help formulators deliver the required amino acid score of a given food.
Rodrigo Tarté, assistant professor of meat science and technology at Iowa State University, reviewed the functions of nitrates and nitrites in meat products. Nitrates are converted in the body into nitrites, which give cured meats their flavor, color, and texture, as well as provide antioxidants and antimicrobial properties. There are no known substances that can provide all of these functionalities, he said, so formulators must replace both the curing system and antimicrobial system in these food products, as well as phosphates and binders. Nitrates derived from vegetables such as celery and Swiss chard can be used in natural or alternative curing; these must still be converted to nitrites through fermentation either in-plant or by the supplier. Because nitrites must be included in meat products to label them as cured, products such as ham and hot dogs must be labeled as uncured and include a several statements, including “No nitrate or nitrite added.”
The final afternoon began with a discussion of clean label processing and packaging, a unique element to this course, according to Cobos, who said that for a clean label product to be truly successful, the approach must be holistic and encompass all parts of production. On the processing side, Tom Woodward of Avure discussed the opportunities high pressure processing (HPP) provides brands to address the concerns of multiple food industry stakeholders, including consumers, distributors, and legislators. HPP’s benefits include alleviating safety concerns by inactivating food pathogens and providing longer shelf life, greater geographic reach for brands with its longer chilled shelf life, and food waste reduction. In addition, products that use HPP can command a premium price as consumers are willing to pay for safer, longer shelf-life, high-quality foods, he said.
Industry consultant Terry A. Clark finished the course with a discussion on packaging, explaining that cleaner ingredient labels may demand different packaging attributes, such as compensating for reduced product stability and shelf life by providing increased barrier, modified atmosphere, or “active” functions like oxygen scavenging or antimicrobial. In addition, light barriers for more sensitive natural colors and improved material and seal strengths for the stresses of high pressure or temperature processes are also key considerations. She also provided information about existing and emerging technologies and offered packaging tips and considerations when developing cleaner label products.
Cobos hopes that IFT will be able to offer this course again in the future. “If the course helps the audience to have a better understanding on how to approach the challenge with new learning and professional contacts, most likely it will be offered again, as this trend in not going away. The course is oriented to everybody, no matter your function, as at the end we are all consumers,” she said.
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