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What Is Clean Label?

Labeling in the food and beverage industry is highly regulated, especially in the developed countries with high consumer awareness. Labels on packaged food contain extensive information on the ingredients of the food product. Labels enable the consumers to select a food product based on their needs, and there has been a rising call for a shift towards more transparent labels. While addressing these consumer needs, the food companies could also differentiate their products from others while giving consumers the choice to pick products that meet their expectations. This paper describes the recent developments in consumers’ expectations which have resulted in what could be termed as the Clean Label Movement. This has resulted in the need for transparent labels, which clearly identify the contents, thus enabling the consumer to exercise an option regarding the purchase of the food item.

The clean label movement began in the UK when food safety was a major concern due to the increased number of scandals. This created a need for traceability of the food ingredients through which the customers’ trust could be won. However, over the years the definition of clean label has changed due to consumers’ increased concerns regarding health, nutrition and well-being. The food loving Gen X’s increasing desire to know the nature of ingredients present in the food items has immensely contributed to the clean label movement. The clean label movement is currently growing across the globe and it is expected to spread across various industries too.

Clean labels are voluntary in nature and therefore self-disclosures have been initiated by food and beverage companies. It is expected that the disclosures are accurate and simply worded. A good clean label demands truthfulness in claims thereby not misleading the consumers. Claims such as “no added sugar” may be misleading if other ingredients are used for sweetening of the product. The use of terms “healthy” for food products is misleading when the sugar content is higher than what could be termed as healthy. The incentive for such disclosures is consumer trust, which is an intangible asset and helps increase loyalty towards brands.

Characteristics Of Clean Label

Companies adhering to clean label principles, revise their formulations in such a way that helps them make front of the pack claims aligned with consumer needs. Some key characteristics of clean labels that will help companies reach out to consumers are listed below:

  • The labels must be clear and easy to read, with no long, crowded, technical names that are confusing.
  • Some important clean label indicators are:
    • No artificial ingredients,
    • No additives, and
    • No preservatives
  • Some independent claims that have overlapped into clean label claims are:
    • Natural
    • Organic
    • Free-from
    • Local, and
    • Sustainable

Consumers have increasingly started relating these claims with cleaner labels, thus making the definition of clean label broader.

Comparison Among Clean Label, Natural, Organic and Free-From Products

Clean label and Natural

  • Not all clean label products can contain the claim “natural” food product. For example, “Natural colors” such as carotenoids, beet anthocyanins, and chlorophyll are not permitted in “natural” food products, even though they are acceptable in clean label products.
  • Natural anti-microbial or preservatives such as cultured vegetable juice, cherry powder and vinegar are not allowed in products that claim “natural” food products. However, such preservatives are allowed in clean label products.

Clean label and Organic USDA’s National Organic Program has permitted the use of compounds such as xanthum gum, and calcium hydroxide in organic products; however, such products cannot be considered as clean label products.

Clean label and Free-fromFree- from foods may not contain ingredients such as wheat, dairy products, gluten etc. and are therefore considered safe for people with allergies. The free-from claims primarily mean free-from allergens. However, this does not classify all free-from products as clean label automatically, thus making free-from another class of products such as organic and natural products.

Technical concerns that do not meet the clean label criteria

  • Vitamins and minerals used for enrichment and fortification of food do not usually meet clean label requirements.
  • Clean label products that have not been processed may lose their absorption or digestion properties.
  • To make a product clean label, such as removal of sugar, processing is sometimes necessary.
  • Addition of natural ingredients into products usually affects the shelf-life of products.
  • Texture and taste may also be affected due to removal of artificial ingredients or changing the processing conditions.
The Clean Label Alliance

As a response to various technical issues that companies face during their transition to clean label products, the Clean Label Alliance was formed. The Clean Label Alliance was officially launched by Ribus in late 2018. Ribus, also known as the “Original clean label company” launched the alliance in response to the increasing demand for clean labels for dietary supplements. The alliance is currently composed of 5 members which is likely to grow in the near future. Global leaders in the dietary supplement industry got together to provide support and solutions to companies for smoother transition and efficient production of clean label supplements.

A company can approach the clean label alliance for its services by filling a request form in the clean label alliance website. The issue that the company faces may be, for example, regarding the production difficulties it is facing. The Alliance will then provide suggestions for implementation, and the problem-solution process can be repeated until the problem is solved.

The current members of the Clean Label Alliance are:

  • Biogrund
    Based out of Germany, Biogrund provides color coating systems to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. Its manufacturing plants have a high GMP standards and are all organic certified.
  • Bosch Packaging Technology
    Headquartered in Germany, Bosch Packaging Technology supplies single machines, combined systems and complete solutions for packaging of food and pharmaceuticals. It is also one of the top manufactures of capsule filling machines.
  • Lonza
    Lonza is a Swiss company, and is a supplier of pharmaceutical, biotech and specialty ingredients. Lonza Consumer Health and Nutrition focuses on high quality scientific ingredients as well as formulation know-how with capsulation and encapsulation technologies. Very recently, in March 2019, Lonza launched the “Oceanix” in U.S.A. and Canada which is its latest clean label performance nutrition product.
  • Natoli Engineering Co
    Natoli Engineering Company based out of the U.S., is engaged in the manufacture of tooling for tablet press. The company is a provider of tablet presses and production software. Other services that Natoli offers is tablet design, tablet press refurbishment, formulation testing and analysis and technical training.
  • Ribus
    Ribus based out of the U.S., is a functional ingredient manufacturing company that supplies natural and organic rice based ingredients. Ribus is also known as the original clean label company. The technological know-how of Ribus helps bring clean label innovation to a wide range of products. It is also involved in reformulation and creation of new clean label products. One such solution developed by Ribus is the newly launched Nu-Bind that is a natural alternative to synthetic plasticizers.
Key Clean Label Market Players

Companies particularly in the ingredients sector, have opted to become major clean label players in the ingredients market. Some of these have been presented below:

  • Cargill: A U.S.- based conglomerate has actively participated in the clean label initiative. Its product line called “SimPure” is a line of natural starch containing a blend of native starches from various botanical sources making it a label friendly product with better shelf life, process tolerance and familiar ingredients.
  • Archer Daniels Midlands Company: A Chicago-based firm, which is one of the world’s largest agricultural processors and food ingredient providers, recently acquired Citrus, the world’s largest citrus oils and ingredient manufacturers. Through this acquisition, ADM has access to a vast portfolio of clean label products and ingredients.
  • Koninklijke DSM N.V.:A multinational Dutch company that works on health, nutrition and materials, DSM replaced its traditional cheese ripening enzyme with a benzoate-free accelerzyme in response to clean label demand by consumers. In Feb 2019, DSM announced acquisition of a 75% shareholding in Andre Pectin which is Asia’s largest producer of apple, citrus pectin, and hydrocolloids for providing texture solutions to food. The demand for new hydrocolloids is based on consumer demand for clean labels.
  • Kerry Group PLC Kerry Group PLC is an Ireland-based public food company with primary focus on better taste and nutrition. Kerry has been steadily building a wide portfolio of clean label products and services in the recent years through mergers and acquisitions. One such example is its acquisition of Ariake, a North American business of Ariake Japan that is a specialist in manufacturing natural food seasonings.
  • Ingredion Inc.A global ingredient solutions company headquartered in the US that makes sweeteners, starches, nutrition ingredients and biomaterials used in food and beverage, paper and pharmaceutical industries. In 2018, Ingredion launched two clean-label organic corn starches namely Novation 309 and 609 Prima. These starches can withstand high processing conditions, cold temperatures while having a good shelf life, thus finding applications in alternative dairy products, refrigerated soup, and savory foods.
  • Tate and LyleTate and Lyle, a U.K. based company, has widely contributed to the clean label movement. It is a specialist in providing clean label starches. It manufactures non-GMO based clean label starches that serves the same functionality as that of their GMO counterparts.
  • Corbion NVCorbion is a Dutch food and biochemical company based out of Amsterdam, Netherlands. Corbion has developed various clean label solutions that find applications in chilled deli-style foods, baked foods, and ingredients for meat and poultry. An example of a clean label product that corbion makes is the Verdad N5 that is produced from fermentation of corn or cane sugar and keeps meat and poultry products safe by suppressing the growth of pathogens. Corbion’s “pristine family” of product, provides clean label solutions to remove unfriendly conditioners and oxidation systems for baked products.
  • Chr Hansen A/SChr Hansen A/S, a Denmark based bioscience company develops natural solutions for nutritional, food, agricultural, and pharmaceutical industries. Hansen produces cultures, enzymes, probiotics and natural colors for foods, confectionery, beverages, dietary supplements and animal feed. Hansen provides a number of clean label solutions such as Fruitmax Pineapple WSP that is a vegetable-based coloring foodstuffs powder with an attractive yellow shade. An excellent clean-label alternative to beta carotene, natural beta-carotene and synthetic colors (Yellow 5), it provides stability across a wide range of bakery products.
  • E. I. du Pont de Nemours and CompanyDuPont is an American subsidiary of the largest chemical conglomerate, DowDuPont. Recently DuPont showed its commitment towards clean label by announcing that its Nutrition and Health division will expand its R&D team by creating a new facility at Barbrand that will be completely focused on ingredients and process development. DuPont produces a range of clean label solutions. The MicroGRAD family of clean label product is one such solution that helps protect shelf life. MicroGRAD 200 helps in protection from molds, yeasts and gram-negative bacteria thus finding applications in sauce, baked goods, pasta, dressings, etc.
  • Whole Foods Market Inc.Whole Foods Market is a supermarket based in the US. and is a subsidiary of Amazon since 2017. The Whole Foods Market is known for keeping clean label foods and has a long list of banned ingredients for its suppliers. The list of banned ingredients includes artificial dyes, bleached flour, saccharin, nitrates, nitrites etc. Whole Foods Market is also known for its color-based front of the pack labels that helps consumers make healthier choices.

Most startups are focused on improving existing food products, for example, through removal of artificial ingredients from food products. Few startups have focused on transparency and efficient information dissemination to consumers, regulators and competitors while providing the stakeholders an opportunity to use available information advantageously. Some startups that are making waves in the clean label market are listed below:

Label Insight Inc.Label Insight is a SaaS company and is headquartered in the U.S. The core mission of the company is to provide greater transparency on food products, thus helping consumers understand what they consume. Label insight provides information on food label data to various stakeholders such as the government, retailers, app developers etc. by efficient utilization of information available on consumer packaged goods from supply chain and on-package information. Label Insight also owns patents on data science such as the US10055710B2 which is an information management system for product ingredients helping stake holders such as manufacturers and retailers understand the competitive nature of their products, and help position products according to their needs.

Abby’s Better

Abby’s Better is a snacking company that produces products ranging from nut butter to protein bites. With less than 5 ingredients, the nut butter is peanut-free and vegan. The product is also gluten-free which makes it an attractive alternative to consumers with allergies, looking for low calorie alternatives. The company has clean label bites giving Abby’s an edge as a healthy snack brand.



Vital Proteins

Vital Protein, a company that makes nutrition-based products for health, fitness and beauty, claims that its products have natural sources of essential proteins. Some of its products, such as the unflavored collagen peptides, have been given a 3-star rating by Clean Label Project.




Fieldcraft is an Austin based start-up that has built a B2B sourcing platform for plant-based ingredients and clean label solutions. Buyers search over 7,000 ingredients, connect directly with suppliers from farms to manufacturers and submit requests from the platform. The company deploys a solutions-tagging feature to enhance its search engine and sourcing platform for plant-based ingredients. It harnesses data so buyers can simplify discovery, make direct connections with suppliers and better leverage plant-based ingredients and solutions for food and beverages.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions among clean label companies in the recent past have helped bigger companies rebrand themselves as consumer friendly brands with a focus on clean labels. Some of these mergers and acquisitions are listed below:

Kerry PLC headquartered in Ireland, works with food companies to create clean label foods and beverages.Its mission includes the following:

  • Replacing ingredients such as natural flavors, colors, preservatives and sweeteners with clean label alternatives while retaining key functionality, taste and nutrition profiles
  • Remove specific ingredients, such as those on a “No-No” list, without sacrificing product integrity
  • Leveraging clean label technologies to reduce ingredients including sugar and salt and simplify product ingredient statements, such as through the use of natural multifunctional ingredients
  • Identifying creative ways to reposition products in the marketplace including innovations in format, packaging and culinary processing and the use of small-batch production
  • Scale companies’ natural brand business while maintaining an identity such as certified organic or non-GMO

The company has been involved in a number of mergers and acquisitions in the year 2018, the most prominent being the agreement to acquire Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company and AATCO Food Industries for about 413 million USD in October 2018. It also acquired the Ariake North American business of Ariake Japan which manufactures, processes, and sells natural seasoning products from chicken, pork, and beef. It also acquired Southeastern Mills’ North American coatings and seasonings business. The total worth of the deal is USD 368.43 million.

Givaudan, a global leader in flavors and fragrances, acquired Naturex, an international leader in plant extraction and development of natural ingredients during Sept, 2018. The aim of the acquisition is to strengthen Givaudan’s food and beverage solutions for meeting the customer requirement of clean label, natural and organic food products.

Azelis, a Nordic chemicals company, acquired Ingredi, a Swedish based distributor of clean label and organic ingredients in May of 2018. The acquisition is expected to help Azelis acquire the complementary products of Ingredi thus helping cover main food application markets such as the meat, food, confectionery and bakery products.

MidOcean Partners, a private equity firm whose core domain is consumer and business services, announced that it acquired Florida Food Products (FFP) during Sept 2018. FFP is a manufacturer of clean label and natural ingredients. Its products have a variety of applications in beverage, meat and meat alternatives, sauce, dressing, beverage, sports nutrition, baked goods and savory foods. As consumers’ tastes expand in an increasingly globalized world, many people are experimenting with fermented foods and drinks not only to satiate their desire for unique taste experiences but also to align with their increased focus on healthy lifestyles. An example of FFP’s commitment to developing clean label products is the use of lactic acid fermentation process to lower the content of sugar in beet juice by ~10-20%.

Clean Label Conferences

Clean Label being a very recent concept, there have been conferences around this topic. A conference on Clean Label held in March 2019, witnessed sessions on ways in which product development teams could strive for simplified ingredient labels through formulations. Presentations were made on new clean ingredients that could help formulation of safe, convenient, sensory pleasing food and beverages.

Adoption of Clean Label in Various Industries

The problems faced by companies that want to launch a clean label are many and they vary from industry to industry.

Beverage Industry

Problems: The most important challenges that the clean label beverage industry faces is color fading, neck ringing and shade shifting of natural colors. Since the color of the drink or juice is an important marketing tool, they are sold in transparent or semitransparent bottles thus making it susceptible to photodegradation. Natural flavors are usually needed in higher concentration, to achieve the required flavor, thus increasing the concentration of reactive carriers, and solvents. Also, some flavors are oils that do not blend well with natural colors.

Solutions: In the beverages industry, innovation has seen a reduction in the use of sweeteners. Also used is lemon juice in place of synthetic acidity regulators. Aseptic filling and pasteurization are some technical alternatives to replacing preservatives. Combination of tropical fruits with commodity fruits has given rise to an increased value to fruit juices with more health benefits. A number of beverage companies are currently working on replacing synthetic texturizers, emulsifiers and colors with whole fruit extracts, without compromising the shelf life of the drink.

Companies: One such company is Gat Drinks, which produces and markets solution ingredients for the fruit and beverage industry.



Another important beverage that has been affected by the clean label movement is the Tea industry. Loft Tea is an example of a tea company that has embraced the idea of clean tea, with its innovative stevia based tea drinks.

Baked Goods Industry

Problems: Ingredients such as propylene glycol monoesters, synthetic caramel colors, artificial flavors, sodium acid pyrophosphates and flour bleaching agents such as benzoyl peroxide and various preservatives have been the subject of controversy among consumers. Also, native starches require chemicals to improve tolerance towards processing conditions.

Solutions: An alternative used to clean up the ingredients in bakery products is the use of natural mold inhibitors such as cinnamon or cloves. Enzymes can be used to disintegrate cooked gelatinized starch that realign themselves after a period of time. Some other commonly known solutions in the bakery industry include use of hydrocolloid gums to enhance the properties of natural starches.



Companies: Companies such as Key Blends and Corbion have developed various clean label solutions. Corbion’s “pristine family” of branded bases mixes and functional ingredients have provided solutions to remove unfriendly conditioners and oxidation systems. Corbion has also developed “Verdad family” of products for inhibiting mold while eliminating calcium propionate, and the “Purac family” for reducing the pH and increase the functionality of the mold inhibitors. Key Blends has a portfolio of clean label products such as the sweet dough concentrate, clean label Danish concentrate and clean label cream cakes among other clean label products.

Snacks and Bars Industry

Problems: A common problem faced by the clean label snack industry is the thin line that separates a clean label product from an allergen-free product. There is an increased usage of almonds, fruits and other healthy ingredients in the formulation of snacks.

Solutions: Tasty and healthy snacks are the preferred choice of the health-conscious population which provides a huge opportunity for the clean label snack industry. Honey is the best clean label alternative to artificial sweeteners, and is considered to be the top ingredient for most product development. They consist of vitamins, minerals and other healthy nutrients. Another important aspect in the snack industry is the focus on minimal processing.

The industries are thus trying to meet both the nutritional standards that traditional snacking industry lacks while maintaining the flavors of the product.



Companies: Some important clean label bar companies are Clif Bar & Company, GoMacro LLC, and Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods. Companies such as Kemin have developed clean label ingredients such as the Fortium RVC, a rosemary and ascorbic acid blend that extends the shelf life of snack products. Kettle chips such as the Herr’s kettle chips has caught the attention of consumers because the ingredients in the chips are simpler, thereby asserting the point that clean label is not about just health but also simpler labels.

Confectionery Industry

Problems: Some global challenges faced by the confectionery industry are the reduction of the amount of fat and calories in natural alternatives and the high cost of refrigeration of natural ingredients. Certain appeal of products such as candies come from its vast range of colors; in such conditions the use of natural colors become the obvious key clean label indicator. However, providing such range of colors is not easy and requires large budgets from companies for innovation.


Solutions: The new clean label chocolate developers are, for example, incorporating healthy natural ingredients such as fruits, pretzels, chia seeds, nuts, pumpkin, coconut, etc. Addition of fruits not only makes the confectioneries healthy but also provides natural flavoring. The National Confectioners Association has claimed that the upcoming trend in confectionaries is the combination of chocolates with fruits. A potential substitute for the regular sugar is stevia extract from the leaves of a plant native to Brazil and Paraguay.



Companies: Nestle, Mars, and Hershey have moved towards freeing up their products of artificial ingredients. Grande Bravo, a customized ingredients company, incorporates whey protein as an innovative way to tackle the problem of reducing calories and fats while keeping the alternative natural.

Meat & Poultry

Problems: Unlike the food and beverage industries, the meat and poultry industry is supposed to maintain a higher vigilance to qualify as clean label. The major problem in the meat industry is the use of preservatives. The most common clean label claims are gluten free and reduced sodium. Better shelf life, minimal processing, and sustainable supply-chain are also important clean label indicators in the meat and poultry industry. Consumers prefer products which are free of chemical sounding ingredients.

Solution: Color is the indicator of freshness of meat to a consumer. The technology that is generally used to retain the color of red meat is the case ready packaging using modified atmosphere packaging. Kalsec, claims that on using natural antioxidants the shelf life of the meat in case ready packaging increases. Thus natural antioxidants are used to increase flavor stability and increase in retention of color of meat.

Companies: Kemin, a food technologies provider has come up with an innovative solution to delay the onset of lipid oxidation thus retaining fresh aroma and flavor of the meat products.

Clean Label Spillover
Pet food industry

The clean label movement has not only caught on the human food and beverage industry but also the pet food industry, wherein pet owners have started demanding that the quality of pet food must be of the same standard as that of human food products. The Clean label project conducted a survey on clean label parameters of pet food products and the ranking was based on a number of parameters such as toxins, pesticides, quality and antibiotics in the ingredients.

Some examples of pet food companies that have embraced the clean label movement are shown below:


Videka is a US based pet food company that claims clean and natural pet food products without any synthetic ingredients by making the best use of a strategic alliance with two companies, the specialty pet food ingredients company Diana Pet Food and oxidation management expertise in human food, Kalsec.


Petco is a pet food company that has decided to oust artificial ingredients due to the increased consumer demand. Petco has decided to execute this by launching new products with new standards. Those existing products that have not met the new standards will be removed from shelves and donated to animal shelters.

Trade Marks Filed

Currently, a number of non-governmental organizations, food and beverage companies, and consultancies have started using their own clean label logos to help customers know the standards that these companies are following. A simple trademark search was therefore conducted using the term “clean label,” in USPTO and OHIM. There were 13 live relevant trademarks filed in the U.S., while 10 were filed in Europe. Some of these trademarks are shown below:



Enforcement and Legal Issues

Some private organizations and non-governmental organizations provide clean label certifications and have their own clean label certification logos. These certification marks, show standardized procedure for assessing clean label claims keeping the product developer on toes regarding the product label. Some examples of certification marks that are already in use in the industry are shown below:



Go Clean label: This is a digital resource that helps consumers and food professionals identify what clean ingredients are within various industries. Go clean label claims it is the first clean label information nexus. It is also a clean label certification agency. It was launched in July 2016 with its headquarters in Chicago Fulton Market.

The certification happens in 4 steps

  • Fill the form
  • Sign the license agreement
  • Official evaluation by Go clean label
  • Use the trademark

Clean label Project: Clean label project is a nonprofit entity focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling. Its mission is to educate consumers so that they can make informed choices every time they shop. This is accomplished by using scientific data to identify toxins in consumer products and by sharing this information with the consumer.

The clean label project certification program provides consumer assurance of ingredient purity. There are 3 basic steps to get certification from the Clean Label project:

  • Proof of food safety certification such as HACCP, GFSI, etc.
  • Supplier assurance program
  • The Compliance results will be announced after an unannounced sampling and laboratory testing by clean label project specialists

The certified products are displayed along with ratings in the website of clean label project.

Certified C.L.E.A.N: C.L.E.A.N stands for Conscious, live, ethical, active and nourishing. The certification integrates many aspects of production starting from manufacturing to delivery. It helps follow and embrace other certifications such as GMP, HACCP, FSMA, HARPC, USDA Organic, and Non- GMO and is applicable in multiple industries such as packaged food products and supplements, snack bars, health drinks, fermented beverages, ready-to-eat foods, juices, oils, functional foods and nutritional supplements. To get certified one needs to fill a form and experts from Certified C.L.E.A.N helps the company regarding the rest of the process.

Regulatory authorities throughout the world such as the Food and Drug Administration, and the European Food Safety Authority have shied away from clearly defining clean label or clean label terms such as “all natural” or “pure” or “organic”. The term organic being the best defined among the three, “organic certifications” undergo strict government regulatory procedures in many countries. However, the use of ambiguous terms in labels that fit the clean label movement needs to be approached with caution. From a legal standpoint it is all about the precedence, such as if there are any lawsuits defying the claims or if preceding FTC enforcements have brought any clarity. The FDA clearly states that a product cannot be termed as natural if it has preservatives in it. Some other terms companies should be wary of when claiming are “raw,” “handmade,” “wholesome” and “nutritious.”

An emerging trend in this area is a number of class action lawsuits that have been filed on claims made on labels. A few law firms have capitalized on this opportunity. A report by Perkins Coie shows that there is a substantial increase in the number of false claims lawsuit and this number is expected to further increase with the growing momentum of the clean label trend. The whole contention is that the consumer should not be misled to believe that the characteristics of the label is something that it is not.


Clean label movement is rapidly spreading across the globe. Today’s Gen-Z are also demanding that the food companies become transparent about their claims. As more consumers are reading the front of the pack claims, the clean label movement is spilling over from food and beverage industries to industries such as the pet food industry, cosmetic industry and even pharmaceutical industry. Companies like the start-up Genexa in the pharma space want to remove unnecessary and potentially harmful chemicals out of OTC medicines. The increased number of class action law suits regarding claims has put companies innovating and transitioning to clean label at risk, if they fail to clearly explain to the consumer, the ingredients that the claim encompasses.



  • This document has been created for educational and instructional purposes only
  • Copyrighted materials used have been specifically acknowledged
  • We claim the right of fair use as ascertained by the author


Mr. Shyamol Bose
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