Competition for the consumer continues to increase among food manufacturers. One path to competitive advantage is clean labels, which addresses the consumer demand for transparency in ingredient lists. The idea of creating products that have fewer ingredients and/or more natural ingredients is something that I can’t help but think is a step in the right direction.


However, the clean label product must still deliver on taste so it may not make sense for some products to consider this. For example, a personal favorite, the Oreo, is not likely to be a candidate for a clean label. On the other hand, SkinnyPop has made the clean label into a powerful selling point. SkinnyPop is a premium popcorn that claims to use the fewest, cleanest and simplest ingredients possible to provide the best tasting popcorn. The emphasis on taste with clean/simple ingredients is key.

A clean label is both an opportunity and a challenge

The consumer is very demanding – they want clean but with minimal impact to the flavor, texture or appearance profile that they expect in their products. I sometimes wonder about the extent to which consumers are willing to trade taste for a clean label and whether they understand or appreciate the trade-off that is being made.

Manufacturers need to be aware of these product expectations because if the clean label product does not meet them, the consumer can easily take to social media platforms to voice dissatisfaction. With this environment, it is important for manufacturers to obtain consumer feedback on the clean label product before launching it into the marketplace. In other words, be sure to test the product with consumers before launch as you cannot assume that the presence of the clean label overrides the flavor expectation.

What does this mean for manufacturers?


Manufacturers need to think strategically about where and how to bring “clean” to their product portfolio. One question to ask is whether being clean is necessary or even desired for your products. For example, many candies have artificial coloring in them that, if changed to natural coloring, could negatively impact product acceptance.

Another consideration is whether some products owned by a company can be clean while others are not. Does this create confusion for the consumer or set up different expectations?

Manufacturers need to understand if a clean label applies to their products and, if so, ensure that those clean products deliver on consumer expectations from both a communication and product formulation standpoint.

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