“Count chemicals, not calories”– that’s the new motto grocery shoppers are increasingly embracing as consumers push for cleaner food labeling and steer clear of foods with unfamiliar ingredient lists. According to a survey in Nutrition Business Journal, high-fructose corn syrup is at the top of consumers’ least-wanted ingredients, followed by partially hydrogenated oils and trans-fats. Not far behind: any ingredients that sound like they belong in a chemistry lab and not a kitchen, reports WebMD. While the Nutrition Business Journal survey found that most consumers were not familiar with the term “clean label,” they certainly understood what it meant.
Consumers say they want foods free from artificial flavors or colors, with minimal processing, and no pesticides or added chemicals. Major brands are listening: Kraft announced it would take artificial flavors and preservatives out of its mac and cheese line; General Mills is purging artificial colors and flavors from its cereal; and Pillsbury introduced a line of Purely Simple baking mixes. But how far down the clean label rabbit hole are brands willing to go to satisfy consumer demand?
Sauces and Condiments Manufacturers Face Clean Label Woes
Case in point: declining condiment sales. Despite the hype surrounding all things Sriracha, which continues to be one of the hottest food industry trends for 2015, other condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressings are falling out of favor. Thanks in part to the clean label movement, consumers are starting to shun heavy sauces packed with corn syrup, artificial flavors and preservatives, forcing the food industry to re-think their approach to condiments. As a result, food processors are scrambling to formulate new products that meet consumer demand for more natural condiments without compromising taste and quality. TIC Gums, for example, has introduced TICorganic Saladizer 100, a 100 percent certified organic gum blend designed to stabilize salad dressings and marinades.
“The product imparts cling and thickens and emulsifies the system,” Maureen Akins, technology manager with TIC Gums told Food Processing. “Additionally, Saladizer 100 helps to texturize the dressing so the desired mouthfeel can be achieved.”
And what about those sugar-laden sauces?
“It is not a secret that sauces and dressings are loaded with sugar,” says Thom King, president and CEO of Steviva Ingredients. In addition to the grocery shoppers who are leading the push towards fewer sugar additives, King says food manufacturers are also under pressure from new government reporting regulations.
“Proposed government mandates on added sugar reporting on labels are driving manufacturers toward clean-label sugar reduction,” notes King. Steviva provides clients with clean-label sugar alternatives that can reduce added sugar by up to 90 percent. One such product is Nectevia, a stevia-fortified agave nectar. When Nectevia replaces DE42 HFCS, it cuts added sugars in half.
But grocery shoppers don’t just demand clean labels on their pantry staples; they also demand ready-to-eat food that’s made with simple, all-natural ingredients.
Can RTE Food Manufacturers Meet Clean Label Demands?
Like condiment manufacturers, ready-to-eat food manufacturers face a major challenge: delivering food that’s rich in flavor but also free from preservatives and flavor additives while still being ready for immediate consumption. Sous vide preparation may be just the solution food manufacturers need to comply with clean labeling for RTE meals. Since sous vide cooking is done under vacuum seal, aerobic bacteria can’t survive and spoil the food, thus sous vide meals typically have longer shelf lives while requiring far fewer preservatives. Plus, since cooking times are so long, anaerobic bacteria is also eliminated, ensuring sous vide food stays fresh far longer than traditionally-prepared RTE foods.
With sous vide food naturally maintaining moisture, flavor and freshness without the need for preservatives, flavor additives and artificial ingredients, this food trend may be just the solution manufacturers need to meet grocery shoppers’ demand for clean label RTE foods.