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Clean Food Labels Could Change The Future Of The Food Industry

EmmamHowe MA, United States 0 Ratings 13 Discussions 8 Group posts

Posted by: EmmamHowe // Marketing/Green Policy Development

It is clear now more than ever that the “clean label” is no longer simply a tend in the food chain industry. Last year, one out of every 10 new food products in the US and over 9% of all global new product launches were given an “organic” label--an increase of 3.4% over the same period two years earlier, according to Innova Market Insights. Even big name companies such as Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Nestle, and even McDonalds as well as other major food and beverage companies have recently decided to remove artificial ingredients from popular food items. It is encouraging to see that the clean label movement is gaining momentum, but before it can gain further traction, a major issue must first be addressed. The US needs to devise more accurate standards and definitions regarding what it means when companies use terms like “clean” or a “natural” on their product labels.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government agency that oversees food labeling in the United States, has recently started to address this initiative, starting the process of changing its own definition for "healthy" and “natural” foods. The FDA recently ended a public comment period, taking in input from industry professionals, experts, consumers, and others based on what they believed the definition of "natural foods" should be. Unfortunately, many industry participants seem to have very different definitions of what natural and healthy actually mean, and many consumers have varied definitions as well. Thus, it seems it may take some time for the FDA to come up with its own definition.

The demand for a new set of regulations has been rising, as more and more consumers desire more “healthy” foods made without artificial ingredients. However, the complexity and misguided labeling that often happens in the natural foods market makes it difficult for many consumers to trust the clean label movement, since they know there aren’t any sort of set rules or standards that food companies must follow when manufacturing products they consider to be more “natural.”

Over ⅓ of consumers in the United States actively claim to read the nutritional and ingredient labels of food products, according to the Health and Diet Survey from the Food and Drug Administration. And nearly just as many “strongly agree” it is important for food labels to contain mostly recognizable ingredients. In fact, ninety-one percent of U.S. consumers believe food and beverage options with recognizable ingredients are healthier, according to Innova Market Insights.

The rising interest in clean labeling makes logical sense given the increasing knowledge and awareness of healthy living that has occurred over the past few decades. People generally want to know what’s in a product, and once they know what is inside a food product, they tend to feel better about what they’re eating and will be more trusting of companies who wish to use “natural” or “clean” labels. By being honest about what is inside food products, the food industry will be able gain back consumer trust, and they must pursue this if they want to join and further the natural food movement.

Though some companies are making a push for clean food product labels, such as Nestle backing US legislation to regulate expiration date standards for food labels, others have been scared away from using the term “natural” or “healthy” due to fears of related lawsuits incidents. In fact, over the past decade, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were sued for labeling foods as "natural" when they contained ingredients such as sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), a synthetic leavening agent, and the food thickener xanthan gum, according to Fast Company. Trader Joe’s settled out of court, while Whole Foods’ lawsuit is still making its way through court as of spring 2016. The real issue is that Whole Foods was using the words “all natural” on particular food product labels that contained the un-natural leavening agent SAPP, which many were claiming was “false advertising.” These cases have caused much fear and trepidation regarding litigation resulting from using the word "natural" in labeling, and now many manufacturers and brands are avoiding use of the term. This leads one to wonder whether these manufacturers are actually using some better ingredients but are shying away from making claims, or whether some are actually giving up the fight to use natural ingredients altogether.

Though there is some worry the clean product trend may lose momentum or possible even fail due to mislabeling and mistrust, the movement is still currently expected to see explosive growth according to many sources, and by 2020, sales of natural and organic food are expected to represent nearly 14% of total food sales. Denise Morrison, president and c.e.o. of the Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., believes that “we are seeing an explosion of interest in fresh foods, dramatically increased focus by consumers on the effects of food on their health and well-being and mounting demands for transparency from food companies about where and how their products are made, what ingredients are in them and how these ingredients are produced.” As and if, as consumer demand continues to grow, companies will be more likely to pursue this trend as the market for natural foods look more stable and homogeneous, pushing them to welcome a precise a definition as natural foods becomes more profitable.

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