Keeping it real: from natural additives to no additives at all

23 November 2021 — Natural flavors and ingredients continue to drive many consumer purchasing decisions, second only to product safety among the factors that shoppers consider most important. As well as the health of the planet, natural sourcing is also firmly associated with personal health and around a third of consumers say that they are actively cutting their intake of additives and sweeteners as part of healthy eating strategies.

A new report from Innova Market Insights assesses trends in natural ingredients, exploring the rise of natural claims and the use of natural flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives and antioxidants. Overall, the research shows that natural alternatives are most advanced in the more developed economies of the world. It also demonstrates that use of basic raw materials in place of additives is very much in favor.

This is certainly evident in the flavors arena where suppliers are trying to remove added flavoring compounds and focus on achieving taste from recognized ingredients. Flavor remains the single most important choice factor for consumers and 43% of all new food and beverage products still contain added flavoring ingredients. Although natural flavors now have the edge over artificial variants, added flavors as a whole have lost ground within NPD, whereas herbal, fruit and other plant extracts have gained share. Botanical taste ingredients also have the advantage of contributing to a product image. For example, turmeric is most widely used in healthy food and drinks, while truffle mushroom can deliver a premium positioning. This can be seen in Thiriet’s new frozen mashed potato in France which is made with butter and fresh cream, as well as two percent black truffle chips.

The colors and preservatives categories very much mirror these trends, with a growing focus on clean labels, the absence of artificial variants and the complete removal of all additives where possible. In terms of coloring, manufacturers are discovering that they can achieve vibrant shades from coloring foodstuffs (i.e., natural plant extracts or concentrates) in place of coloring additives. Nestlé’s new Pirulo Frutti ice lollies, for example, combine green, orange and red sections that are colored using only beetroot juice, carrot concentrate, safflower concentrate, carotene and curcumin. Meanwhile, in preservation, the likes of vinegar and lemon juice are back in favor, while botanicals with antioxidant benefits such as rosemary extract are also flourishing.

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Thiriet Les Cuisines Ecrase De Pommes De Terre A La Truffe Noire: Mashed Potatoes With Black Truffle (France, Apr 2021), Nestle Pirulo Frutti Apple Orange And Strawberry Fruit Water Ice (Germany, Aug 2021) and Vega Sport Nighttime Rest And Repair Plant-Based Recovery Protein Powder With Vanilla Caramel Flavor (Canada, Oct 2021).

In sweeteners, trends are slightly different as sugar is still the most natural choice from the plant world but is increasingly unpopular for health reasons. In the year ending Q3 2021, nine percent of all new food and drinks carried a sugar reduction or removal claim. Establishing new sugar alternatives is challenging, however, as consumers tend to correlate familiarity with a natural image. As a result, the likes of allulose and erythritol – both seeing strong growth in use – have a less natural image than sucralose, an artificial, yet more recognized, sugar substitute. Stevia has succeeded in building a natural image for itself and continues to gain share within NPD, while monk fruit extract – benefiting from its description as a ‘fruit’ and ‘extract’ – is now outpacing stevia. It is proving particularly popular in healthy plant-based recipes as seen with Vega Sport’s new protein powders in Canada.

Looking ahead, the way in which natural messages are imparted to the consumer continues to evolve. Although ‘no additives/preservatives’ claims remain important, their use has leveled off a little in recent years, as has been seen with general ‘natural’ claims. Instead, ‘plant-based’ claims are flourishing and many plant-based formulators target the use of botanical ingredients in place of anything artificial.

Sustainability could be a stumbling block for natural ingredients going forward, however, with growing pressures on land and water use. Nature has its limits but, while man-made chemicals remain a no-no, there could still be scope for science to help out. The ingredients industry is already exploring the potential to create more ‘nature-identical’ ingredients through natural fermentation processes, so there may be future scope for ingredients that are natural enough to satisfy consumers without further denuding nature’s resources.

“Natural Ingredients & Flavors” is a new Ingredients Insider report from Innova Market Insights. It discusses the continuing evolution of the natural ingredients category, concentrating on flavors, colors, sweeteners and preservatives/antioxidants. As well as reviewing consumer attitudes to naturalness, it assesses the use of natural claims and natural ingredients within global and regional NPD.

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