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Clean up


Clean Label

Consumers want transparency:

do your products deliver?

Just What is Clean Label?

As widespread as the word “clean” has become, uncertainty remains about what it actually means when used in the culinary universe. The first clean label certification agency, Go Clean Label™ ( –an online resource for consumers and food professionals – was founded in response to that lack of clarity.


“Clean label is a consumer driven movement, demanding a return to ‘real food’ and transparency through authenticity,” Go Clean Label™ explains. That includes “food products containing natural, familiar, simple ingredients that are easy to recognize, understand, and pronounce…no artificial ingredients or synthetic chemicals.”


According to the agency, consumers are in the driver’s seat where the guidelines are concerned.


“It all starts off with consumer perception of ‘natural.’ This then influences decisions made by powerful food groups – food service and retail grocery store chains,” information from Go Clean Label™ says. “Companies compile official lists, explicitly stating the ingredients that cannot be present in food items in their stores or restaurants.”


Whole Foods’ “Unacceptable Ingredients for Food” list and Panera’s the “No No List” are two examples, Go Clean Label™ notes.

August saw Del Taco Restaurants, Inc., announce the addition of a clean label queso blanco, a premium offering made with real cheese, real milk, jalapeños and heavy cream with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.


And back in April, Jersey Mike’s Subs announced that the chain now sources turkey raised without antibiotics at its 1,200+ locations nationwide.


It’s all part of a burgeoning movement toward better-for-you foods, industry experts say.


“Consumers are reading labels, researching ingredients and choosing higher-quality food products more than ever today. Driving this trend is a consumer-led movement where shoppers are demanding a return to a ‘real food’ diet,” says Michelle Lieszkovszky, Butterball brand manager, deli and prepared foods. “Cleaner labels are in higher demand and consumers want more transparency in food processing, authentic ingredients, and familiar, simple products. All-natural or naturally processed products are becoming more appealing throughout the retail grocery and food service segments.”

By Kathleen Furore

2017 has been a very clean year – at least in the food & beverage marketplace.


In September, Panera unveiled “the largest clean kids menu of any national restaurant chain,” cementing its commitment to transparency in everything it serves.


“100 percent of our food is 100 percent clean. That means no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors and no colors from artificial sources. And it applies to our U.S. food menu and Panera at Home grocery products too,” company information says.

Consumers’ demand for food transparency presents a prime opportunity for retailers and the vendors that serve them to capture a share of “clean label” sales – especially since the trend isn’t limited to natural and specialty retailers. Indeed, it has become a mainstream movement.


“Ninety-three percent of households have purchased a clean label product at grocery stores, while 70 percent have purchased at a mass merchandiser/supercenter and 31 percent at club stores,” the post “Who’s Buying Clean Label Products “ at says. “In fact, when looking across the store, sales of conventional products are declining, while sales of products that tout being simple, ‘clean,’ sustainable and free of artificial ingredients are on the rise.”


What a package says, in fact, can impact sales, as Nielsen’s Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, for the 52 weeks ended May 20, 2017 shows (see graph below)::

Clean Label = Clear Opportunity

But as ubiquitous as the clean label has become on some products, tremendous opportunity remains.


“In many categories the share of shelf space for clean label items is still under-indexed compared to food and beverage overall,” Nielsen reports.


Lunch meat, for example, is in the category “opportunity categories compared with two years ago,” according to Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, for the 52 weeks ended July 8, 2017.


“As manufacturers and retailers continue to think about clean label, there are opportunities across the entire store where innovation can help drive growth,” Nielsen notes.

Manufacturers Answer Consumers’ Call

Meeting shoppers’ expectations is never easy, especially because they demand so much from every company along the path to purchase.


“When it comes to what consumers expect in terms of food transparency, product ingredients rank the highest, followed by manufacturing process and sourcing practices,” information from “Demand for transparency grows,” a Nov. 6, 2017 story at says. This applies both to what the product contains and to what it does not, the story notes.


Meeting those expectations is well worth the effort.


According to proprietary 2017 research from Chicago-based Label Insight, which CMO Patrick Moorhead shared with Meat + Poultry, ”Thirty-nine percent of consumers would switch from their current preferred brand to one that offers more product transparency, while 81 percent would consider a brand’s entire portfolio of products if they switched to that brand because of transparency.”

Several vendors are answering consumers’ call.


Butterball, for example, offers a variety of high-quality turkey products with cleaner labels.


“We have an extensive all-natural line of fresh and packaged meat offerings, turkey products made with no antibiotics ever, as well as a classic, uncured deli lunchmeat turkey breast portfolio where we removed 100 percent of the nitrates/nitrites from the ingredients,” Lieszkovszky says.

Other companies also offer clean label deli products. Applegate Naturals has No Sugar Bacon – humanely raised, hickory smoked, gluten-free and casein-free bacon from Applegate, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods; Columbus Craft Meats is launching a line of pre-sliced, uncured antibiotic-free salami made without added nitrates or nitrites; and Coleman Natural Foods is launching a new line of clean label meat products, including organic offerings that are free-range and non-GMO including Coleman Natural Applewood-smoked and maple-smoked bacons, Meat+Poultry reports.

Slicing Clean Label Products

There are nuances manufacturers encounter when slicing products to ensure clean label requirements are maintained.


“Slicing a clean label item is difficult and some might consider it an art,” explains Mike Bliss, Butterball vice president of operations. “Without the addition of binders – starch, carrageenan, etc. – and in most cases lower sodium values, the product is not bound as tight[ly] as a conventional item, and it has the tendency to separate and fall apart.”


That, he notes, means lower yield at time of slice and difficulty in peeling apart the slices in whole pieces at point of use.


“I have found that blade speed, angle of blade edge, tempering of the log prior to slice and the mechanism used to hold the log as it feeds to and through the blade contribute to your success in slicing,” Bliss adds.


To meet those challenges, Butterball uses Weber slicers. “We have found that their mechanism to hold and feed the log through the blade to be best in class,” Bliss says. “When you combine their expert knowledge with their assortment of blade types, you are sure to find the right blade and blade speed that will maximize your results.”


Ultimately, it will be the companies who go “clean” who will capture the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers seeking transparency in the foods they buy.


As Nielsen’s “Who’s Buying Clean Label Products“ concludes: “Manufacturers, brands and retailers will need a keen sense of current trends toward product transparency in order to deliver on evolving consumer needs. Clean label is a spectrum, and companies need to know where the shifts are happening. The bottom line is that transparency and clean label are not point-in-time fads. They have gone mainstream and competition for consumers seeking clarity, purity and responsibility is going to continue to increase.”

Clean Label: Preferences Vary by Age, Ethnic Group and Income

While the popularity of clean label products is growing across the board, purchase patterns differ by age, income level and demographic group, industry data shows.


“Millennials and Generation X consumers are more likely to seek out and purchase products that are labeled organic, free of GMOs, and don’t include added hormones,” according to “It’s Clear: Transparency is Winning in the U.S. Retail Market,” an August 2017 clean label report from Nielsen, Those claims are less important to members of The Greatest Generation, the report says.


Nielsen also reports that consumers under 35, those with annual household incomes over $100,000 and families with children “…care much more about transparency and clean label than older generations do, and their spending prowess is growing.”


The Hartman Group’s Health + Wellness 2017 report offers a similar assessment.


“Consumers are increasingly aware of the personal health and environmental consequences of the foods and beverages they consume. This is why they are paying very close attention to the information on the product label,” the report says. “From ingredient lists, claims and descriptors to the nutrition facts panel, about four in 10 (42%) consumers say they rely on the product label as a source for helpful and accurate information about health and wellness." And as the graph from The Hartman Group shows, those preferences vary by demographic group:

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