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  • Writer's picturePaloma Lopez

Is Clean Label a Fad?

Hello Future Fit Food Fans and welcome back to our weekly blog where we discuss the future of food. Thanks for the comments shared so far. This week we start a conversation about where ‘clean labels’ might be headed post COVID19. So, what is a ‘clean label’?

Let’s start by saying that there is nothing scientific about how the term ‘clean label’ is used. Instead, it’s a term that folks have been using for years to describe foods that have a small number of readable, pronounceable, natural, and wholesome ingredients, easily found around most kitchens.

Foodie millennials and generation X are some of the biggest fans of ‘clean labels.’ But why? It might have to do with the fact that 9 out of 10 people who see recognizable ingredients, believe the food is healthier (Innova 2018).

But even among millennials, ‘clean label’ is more relevant when they are after healthy meals or snacks, and less so when they want treats where health attributes often takes a back seat.

And here is another tricky aspect of ‘clean label’, it turns out that the attributes defining the term are not the same for everyone. For some, the term is purely with what’s on the ingredient list, while for others it can be about clean supply chains, allergen-free recipes or good animal welfare practices.

A number of retailers jumped on the ‘clean label’ bandwagon early on, launching lines of private label foods such as Aldi’s Simply Nature, that responded to the simplicity and easily recognizable list of ingredients that some of their customers look for.

Did you know that besides Aldi, many other US and European retailers such as Kroger, Whole Foods, and Marks & Spencer, to name a few, have already banned many ingredients from their private label foods which they don’t consider ‘clean’?

In fact, the use of artificial flavorings, colorings, and preservatives, as well as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats are often among the first included on the banned ingredients lists.

If the topic interests you, take a look at the website of your local grocery store to see if they have a list of banned ingredients for their private label brand, or even check out some of your favorite food brands’ websites to see if they have their own list. You might be surprised with the findings.

Beyond ‘clean labels’ with a short list of wholesome ingredients, folks are asking brands to be more ‘transparent’ around the food journey. For example, people want to know about the origins of their foods, the supply chain conditions, any use of chemicals in the processing, and if relevant, what animal welfare practices are in place.

I like to say that subconsciously people are ‘triangulating’ the information they collect on food brands and retailers to inform their decisions. Folks are looking at product labels and claims in store, listening to what influencers have to say on social media and paying much attention to the brand’s supply chain actions on the news and websites.

The desire to know more about our foods leads to another critical conversation about trust - before, now and after COVID19. Some of the questions that I have been pondering are: who should we trust with our foods moving forward and why? local or global? big or small producers?

Delivering on clean label, transparency and ultimately trust is not as simple as putting together a short list of clean ingredients.

The COVID19 pandemic and our time confined at home during the past few months have started a new conversation about the role that food and cooking should play in our lives moving forward. Personally, during the stay-at-home period, I cooked many new recipes (some were posted on our Instagram account @projectnext2020) and it was through those new cooking experiences that I realized that home-made cooking not only can be a lot of fun but it’s also one of the best ways to discover, experiment, appreciate and adopt new ingredients.

So, as we look into the future of ‘clean label’ post COVID19, what does ‘clean label’ mean to you? How could Future Fit Foods deliver radical and inclusive transparency beyond clean label? We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Jun 11, 2020

This is such an important and interesting question. To me food is so much more than a product or an ingredient. Food embodies so many stories, the people and the environment behind it. I think that the current "clean label" movement falls short of the richness of food. The baseline are things like organic and fair trade, no added sugars or flavors etc. because it tells me something about the way the people and planet where treated, as well as alludes to how it might be for my own body. Beyond that however, wouldn't it be amazing to also know where the ingredients are from, where they have traveled before being mixed into this product, how they have been transported…


May 29, 2020

Great topic. I do read labels, and sometimes just the number of ingredients is enough to know. Long list, forget it. And it's not just about clean ingredients, but also false labeling, beware. For example, "Greek Yogurt" abounds. Must read the label, anything other than milk and live yogurt cultures is not true Greek yogurt. Ingredients such as pectin, gelatine or starch make it a lie. And, I'm growing tons of basil for the summer gold treasure: Pesto. I make my own, simple ingredients. Check the list on store bought pesto and you will not want it. Thanks for another great blog :)

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