“Clean” means more than clean

What characteristics identify a clean product? In the past, food and beverage companies defined clean products as those that were organic, natural, and/or free of additives and preservatives. Clean products were more niche than mainstream.

The introduction of genetic modification into the food supply added another layer to the definition of clean as consumers sought out products that were free of GMOs and manufacturers labeled products accordingly. Clean continued to expand in scope and product options. Most recently, the growth explosion into a broader range of protein ingredients in new meat and dairy alternatives has been fueled in part by consumer perception of plant based alternatives as “cleaner” than their animal based counterparts, independent of the processing required to create these alternatives.

Looking at perception of classic clean claims of organic and natural, a solid majority of consumers surveyed believe that natural and organic products are healthier than their conventional counterparts and say that natural claims strongly influence their purchasing decisions. They find products with natural ingredients to be attractive and want to avoid both artificial colors and products with ingredients that are difficult to understand.

Since the word “clean” lacks an official, legal, or universally agreed upon definition, it is applied broadly by companies and consumers alike. Consumers surveyed by Innova define clean products as those that support healthful eating, have short lists of understandable ingredients, and are free from as many additives – colors, flavors, preservatives – as possible. While consumers seek out clean products, relatively low percentages report changing their eating habits to detox or cleanse their body and/or to reduce harmful ingredients.

Today, a broader view of clean incorporates a combination of positive and negative claims that describe features that a product has, namely, real and natural ingredients, and those it doesn’t have – additives, preservatives, artificial ingredients, colors, flavors, stabilizers, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). Sweeteners make the list of ingredients a clean product shouldn’t have, possibly reflecting the current negative sentiment toward sugars.

It is no surprise that products for babies and toddlers are the leading category in claims related to clean – parents seek to protect their children from ingredients they perceive as harmful. Claims for no added or no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives are more prevalent than claims for the natural forms of those additives. Alcoholic beverages and sports products are the fastest growing subcategories, demonstrating the broad appeal of clean claims across the entire food and beverage industry.

“Clean Label: Evolving and Expanding” is a recent Trends Insider report from Innova Market Insights, which brings together consumer research, market sizes, company analysis and a review of new product trends and activity to demonstrate just how the picture has been changing and to suggest where the future opportunities can be found.

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