Buckle up. The top trend driving innovation in the snack and bakery industries has no formal definition, isn’t regulated, and is shifting all of the time. Yes, clean label demands are touching every facet of the food industry, from formulation to packaging and marketing—and everything in between.

But is everyone on the same page? That’s questionable.

“Customers looking for clean labels look for ingredients they recognize with familiar names,” says David Delghingaro, president, Brolite Products, Inc., Bartlett, IL.

Indeed, in its “Health + Wellness” report, The Hartman Group found that 65 percent of consumers say they look for foods with the shortest list of ingredients; 58 percent say they look for those containing only ingredients they recognize.

In other words, says David Sheluga, director of consumer insights, Ardent Mills, Denver, this segment of consumers avoids artificial ingredients and “science-y” sounding ingredients.

But the definition continues to evolve past what’s shown on the ingredients list. According to Don Trouba, senior director of go-to-market, The Annex by Ardent Mills, clean label consumers are also looking for products that are good for the environment. “Their purchases are part of evolving food journeys toward better well-being and ‘well-doing.’ Consumers are seeking out the food products that not only nourish their bodies, but actively contribute toward a better food system and practices in terms of land and water usage, animal welfare, and more.”

As consumers and brands alike broaden their definition of clean label, it has grown to include everything from transparency and USDA organic to being free from artificial ingredients, non-GMO, plant-based, and even locally grown and sustainably sourced, says Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill, Minneapolis. “What resonates depends on specific individuals, but the crux of clean label is that consumers are becoming more discriminating about the products they buy.”

Shoppers are seeking out foods that meet their specific criteria, notes Stauffer, and if their old standby doesn’t pass muster, they’re often willing to switch to a new brand that does.


Tackling clean challenges

In many ways, the challenges facing clean label bakers and snack manufacturers are the same challenges faced by conventional product developers. “We still want the product’s shelf life to be a certain number of days,” says Delghingaro. “We still want the product to withstand all sorts of variables just like we did before. The difference now is the ingredients we choose to receive the results we want.”

For Brolite Products, the solution lies in finding simple ingredients that consumers will recognize—and that are capable of replacing technical-sounding ingredients they won’t. In many cases these days, the answer is enzymes. “Many bakers are using enzymes and cultured or fermented ingredients to replace the ingredients we used to rely on like SSL, DATEM and ADA,” Delghingaro says.

Since every brand’s clean label goals are different, Brolite utilizes a team of bakers to work directly with customers to develop the exact products needed for the formula. Among its tools are caramel color replacements (Dark R and CL Dark Malt) and natural mold inhibitors (N.I. Natural Mold Inhibitor and Natural Spelt Mold Inhibitor). Delghingaro notes that the company’s clean label products work well with yeast-raised or leavened products. “We also have clean label products to work with sweet goods, too.”

Enzymes are also a solution recommended by Delavau Bakery Partners by SafPro, Piscataway, NJ. “We’ve developed a variety of enzyme-based solutions at our Delavau Food lab to include clean label alternatives for antimicrobial shelf-life extension, textural shelf-life extension, dough strength and extensibility solutions, among others,” says Matt Patrick, technology, applications research, and technical service. The Encore Soft line of ingredients, for example, can maintain the eating experience and shelf life of packaged soft pretzels to the tune of four to over 24 hours, all with a clean label.

When it comes to preserving shelf life, another clean label solution is high-stability oils. “The profile of our Omega-9 canola oil and Plenish high-oleic soybean oil allows packaged foods to stay fresh without additives or artificial preservatives while delivering a clean, light flavor,” says Carson Callum, market manager, grains and oils, Corteva Agriscience, agriculture division of DowDuPont, Indianapolis. These oils are also highly functional as frying or spray oils, and as components in lower-saturated-fat shortening blends, he adds. “Any application where food preparation is exposed to oxidative conditions will benefit from the use of high-stability oils.”

Removing unwanted ingredients and finding clean label replacements is a top challenge for formulators, especially because many conventional ingredients are directly at odds with clean label goals. “Many traditional ingredients are typically not minimally processed, nor do traditional product formulations call for fewer ingredients,” says Jay Johnson, chief operating officer, Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, ND. One easy way to meet a clean label goal, he says, is to switch to natural and organic alternatives of existing ingredients. Some simple swaps, he adds, include ingredients that utilize or are produced from whole grains, beans, seeds, expeller or mechanically pressed oils, or minimally processed flour.

To meet organic demand, Ardent Mills recently expanded its Ultragrain Whole Wheat Flour line to include organic options. “Wheat is a non-GMO grain, and our organic product mix includes organic options from durum, cracked wheat, spelt, whole wheat flour, bread wheat flour, all-purpose wheat flour, pastry flour, customized breads, Universal Pizza Mix, Biscuits & More Mix, Brownie Base, Cake Bake, and a complement of grain mixes and blends,” Trouba says.

The biggest challenge, says Brook Carson, vice president of product development and marketing, Manildra Group USA, Leawood, KS, is that snack products and baked goods use ingredients that are so functional, that switching out ingredients can have a drastic impact on the formulation. That’s why she recommends ingredients that are multifunctional, like wheat proteins, which not only allow for a shorter ingredients list, but also optimize both the rheology and the finished product texture, she says. “GemPro wheat proteins can develop the gluten network needed for process and product texture, but that flexible network also pulls double-duty to maintain optimum quality throughout shelf life.”

Over the past year, Manildra Group launched GemPro Plus, Prime-E, Prime-W and Tack for use as dough conditioners to balance rheology, improve pan flow or improve sheeting characteristics. GemPro Prime-W, specifically, adds aeration, reduces mix time, and/or adds tenderness, depending on the application. And the GemPro Tack range of ingredients include wheat-based binders designed to replace sugar- or syrup-based binders in many snacks and bars.

GemPro proteins are suitable for a wide range of snack and bakery applications, including breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, bars and more, notes Carson.

Beyond switching out artificial or heavily processed ingredients for cleaner alternatives, another challenge plaguing clean label bakers and snack makers is taste. “The challenge is to remember baked goods and snacks are indulgent categories,” says Stauffer. “Consumers have high expectations surrounding the appearance, taste and texture of these products.” And bakery products like muffins, pastries and even doughnuts aren’t immune to clean label demands, she adds.

On the texture front, Stauffer says native starches derived from plant-based sources like corn, wheat, potato, rice and tapioca can fulfill product requirements like thickening, texturizing, stabilizing, moisture retention, gelling, dough binding and more. Cargill offers label-friendly functional starches under the SimPure brand.

On the sweetener front, consumers are scrutinizing sugar contents, Stauffer says. That’s why plant-sourced ingredients like stevia and chicory root fiber can help product formulators keep sugar levels in check, yet still live up to consumers’ taste expectations, she explains.

Taste and performance represent challenges that can also be circumvented by smart partnerships, says Elena Taylor, director, wet ingredients, Dawn Foods, Jackson, MI. “From a taste standpoint, it can be challenging to find commercial clean label ingredients that have the same functionality as ‘conventional’ items and don’t compromise on taste.” But at Dawn Foods, the clean and conventional offerings offer the same functionality, proven via testing on different oven types, hold times, water amounts and more.

“We see our company as a strategic partner for our customers,” Taylor says, “collaborating on custom products that meet specific requirements within the clean label category.”

The bottom line? Clean label trends aren’t going anywhere, and if the past is prologue, the definition will only continue to expand. “No product category is immune, and there’s no going back,” says Matt Gennrich, senior food technologist, R&D bakery applications, Cargill. “Suppliers well versed in label-friendly solutions can help provide appropriate options for a growing list of applications.”