Global Food Forums’ first-ever “Clean Label” conference was held in Oak Brook,Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) on October 29th and 30th, 2013. The well-attended conference stimulated dynamic interactions between participants and speakers that underscored the importance of and confusion engendered by this trend. Archived presentations from this meeting can be viewed at the link provided at the end of this posting. Here are quick-read highlights of the meeting’s presentations:
CONSUMER ATTITUDES AND TRENDS
Looking for “short” ingredient lists
Steven French (NMI) noted that In 2012, “51% of consumers surveyed indicated that they selected foods on the basis of the ingredient list, and 52% of consumers selected on the basis of the nutritional facts panel” and 47% say they looked for “short” ingredient statements.
Shrinking retail space for processed foods
Leslie Skarra (Merlin Development, Inc.) explained that retailers are shrinking “processed” food shelf space while imposing clean-label demands on their own private label brands. Different retailers maintain their own lists of “approved” ingredients.
Clean label appeal is very broad
Linda Gilbert (EcoFocus Worldwide, LLC) presented data showing that “68% of grocery shoppers regularly patronize the Big Box stores, 49% shop the retail chain grocers, and 19% regularly shop at Natural Chain stores”. Gilbert summarized what consumers are looking for in each of the major U.S. retailers’ signature “clean label” brands. Private label brands have been a dominant growth trend in U.S. food retailing.
SUSTAINABILITY (COST MANAGEMENT)
How to save on packaging costs
Ken Marsh (Kenneth Marsh & Associates, Ltd.) observed that, ”use by…” code dates are a primary cause of a lot of food waste”. He provided data that demonstrated how specific product shelf-lives can vary by as much as 300 days, depending on ambient temperature, production, transportation and warehouse storage conditions. Marsh suggested that there exists a major opportunity for sustainability improvements and cost savings through code-date differentiation for different regions and seasons.
There could also be different standards for packaging materials, depending on season – for example, using heavier (more expensive) moisture barriers during hot-humid seasons and lighter barriers for more temperate seasons and regions. “This creates more complex inventory management paradigms that could be managed through RFID technology” and that should generate substantial cost savings.
Marsh’s conclusion: “don’t package for the worst market conditions…package for the total market conditions!”
Green tea and mustard seeds
Prof. Fereidoon Shahidi (Memorial University of Newfoundland) – reviewed antioxidant mechanisms and provided data demonstrating how natural green tea extract and mustard seed flour provided highly effective antioxidant protection, rivaling that of synthetic antioxidants, in a variety of food systems. The flip side is that one must minimize the presence of auto-oxidative catalysts in food and beverage systems, noting that “copper is 50-times more pro-oxidative than iron”.
Natural antimicrobials still a challenge
Kathleen Glass (University of Wisconsin’s Food Research Institute) – discussed work underway at the FRI to identify naturally derived preservatives. “Clean-label antimicrobials are often associated with colors or flavors” and tend to be more effective at lower pH values. Many are derived from natural fermentation, such as the calcium propionate produced from Swiss cheese cultures. Vinegar also has very powerful antioxidant properties, but one needs to be aware that natural antimicrobials’ effectiveness is contingent upon a wide spectrum of formulation conditions, said Glass. A checklist was provided.
LEGAL, LABELING & REGULATORY CONCERNS
Natural flavor labeling…still confusing
Prof. Gary Reineccius (University of Minnesota) – summarized natural flavor labeling regulations in the U.S. Basically, “natural” refers to any flavorant not used for any other purposes, that has been extracted or enzymatically derived from a plant or animal source or roasted. If the natural flavoring ingredient is a characterizing product (e.g., natural cherry flavor in a cherry pie), then it may be called a “natural [product]” on the front panel. Otherwise, if the natural flavoring is non-characterizing (for example, natural vanilla extract used in a cherry pie), then it must be referred to as a naturally flavored [product name] on the front panel. And much, much more…
Natural food labels are the “new tobacco”
Anthony Pavel (Morgan Lewis) – provided a refreshing presentation on “when natural isn’t good for you”. It included a thought-provoding discussion on increasing food safety and litigation risks, noting that Big Tobacco has transmogrified into Big Food as a target for the plaintiffs industry. “The plaintiffs’ bar is aggressively going after the food industry today,” said Pavel. A big focus of litigation activity has been and will continue to be the misuse of the term “natural.” So, be extra careful!
Organic and other claims still in flux
Sharon Herzog (Country Choice Organic) – shared her approach, as R&D Director, to the challenges of organic and clean label-centered product development from a working scientist’s perspective. She mentioned that the true growth market in this category was the “20-25% of households that were both ‘fact-based’ and committed to health and wellness”. Today, 81% of U.S. households buy at-least some foods from the $35b organic foods sector, said Herzog. She reviewed the challenges of conforming ingredients to the rigors of the National Organic Standards Board’s ever-changing lists and definitions for the different levels of “organic” compliance (i.e., 70%, 95% or 100%). Each ingredient requires its own supply chain due diligence, she emphasized. Plus, she added, there are all the other verifications to consider, required by the various consumer sub-segments huddled under the “organic umbrella” (e.g., free range, free trade, vegan, gluten-free). As the famed green spokesamphibian Kermit the Frog was wont to say, “It’s not easy being clean!”
INGREDIENTS AND R&D
Clean label culinology
Mark Crowell (CuliNex, LLC) – provided specific examples of how clean-label culinology has helped food companies trade-up into new and profitable categories. For example, the Sunsweet® cooperative introduced a retail bread made and with and branded as Plum Amazins® plum concentrate. Plum Amazins contributes low Glycemic Index, high dietary fiber, shelf-life extension and preservative qualities to bread and other products and…all that with a clean ingredient label.
Natural colors: the new frontier
Prof. Ronald E. Wrolstad (Oregon State University) – discoursed on natural colors. “Neither the FDA nor the EU has a legal definition for natural colorants”, he said. The source of colorants can have a big impact on their stability. For example, anthocyanin dyes from black carrots exhibit “good-to-excellent” stability at pH<4.5 but the anthocyanins from red grape extract only exhibit “fair-to-good” stability at pH<3.5. Tomato lycopenes, meanwhile, are stable through a broad pH range. Because of their high price, natural colorants are tempting targets for adulteration. So, be careful!
Clean starch modification
Sakharam Patil (S.K. Patil & Associates) – discoursed at length on technologies used to produce clean-labeled starches. These included: a) heat-moisture treatments (i.e., controlled swelling); b) annealing ; c) dry roasting; d) spray drying and e) enzymatic modification.
Harnessing multidimensional flavor perceptions
Alex Woo (w2o Food Innovation) delivered with characteristic wry humor the basics of taste physiology and a review of natural tastants available to the product developer. This presentation segued to address the “cross-modal associations” of other sensory variables (sight, smell, tactile, sound) on taste perceptions. For example: subliminal vanilla, carbonation, round shapes, colors, color contrasts and high-pitched tinkling noises can each enhance sweetness perceptions. Who knew?
SELECTED TECHNOLOGY SNAPSHOTS
(15 minute presentations on clean label-branded ingredients)
Clean-label tomato paste extender
Erik Hassid (Givaudan) promoted a tomato paste-replacement system that provides umami impact without added MSG, as a means of softening cost volatility in tomato-containing products. If cost-volatility management is the coming thing in product development, purchasing agents will be mightily pleased.
Non-GMO, trans-fat free, no preservatives, extended shelf-life fats and oils…
Mary LaGuardia (Dow AgroSciences) promoted high-oleic, low-linolenic acid “Omega-9” oils and shortenings with greatly extended shelf lives (…and “double the fry life” of conventional shortenings) that obviate the use of antioxidants in the oil. The zero trans fat canola and soy-based shortenings and oils are the product of conventional breeding. The company offers a nifty cost-savings calculator for use of this shortening in food service operations at its website: http://www.omega-9oils.com/healthier-frying/
Sulfite-free fruit preservation
Kevin Holland (Tree Top, Inc.) presented dried, color-protected apples slices, mde using Tree Top’s new sulfite-free alternative that both preserves color and reduces sodium. The new preservative system’s label lists sea salt, lemon juice concentrate, and molasses. On a side note: molasses antioxidants have been the focus of considerable research for their nutraceutical properties. Interesting, that.
A 100% egg replacer for bakery
Diane Hoffpauer (Glanbia Nutritionals) discussed Optisol® 3000, a 100% egg replacement system applied to Italian bread formulations. Benefits included reduced ingredient costs, reduced fat, improved taste and texture, improved yield and a clean ingredient label.
Powerful all-natural flavor and salty taste enhancer
Doug Lynch used extensive documentation and live taste testing to prove the power of LycoRed’s SANTÉ all-natural sodium-reduction and flavor enhancement system extracted from tomatoes. Your’s truly tested the ingredient in soy sauce…the ingredient contributed an explosive salt taste in that medium. The ingredient contributes both umami and kokumi notes to foods and beverages.
Purple sweet potato as color and antioxidant source
Tayo Bisiolu (Vegetable Juices, Inc.) presented a purple sweet potato juice for use as a clean-label colorant that is both rich in antioxidants and nutraceutical value. The (red-purple) colorant has a two-year shelf life when stored frozen and is most stable at a pH of 3-4.
FOR A COMPLETE SET OF CLEAN LABEL CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS, VISIT THIS SITE: http://www.globalfoodforums.com/2013-cleanlabel/downloads/