The term ‘clean labels’ has gained a lot of currency in food circles but has no regulatory standing, says one analyst.
Julian Smith of Bord Bia’s Strategic Information Services division said it is a term that seems to be gathering some traction, including being used as an umbrella title for leading European conferences.
Mr Smith, however, points out that the term has as yet no legal standing.
In Bord Bia’s latest Food Alert publication, he says: “While the term itself is relatively new, what it seeks to describe is not so new, with the consumer demand for ‘natural’ produce.
“The term is attributed to British retailers’ response to a study which linked hyperactivity in children to food additives identified by E-numbers. The retailers turned to their suppliers to ‘clean’ up the labels by replacing the E-numbers with natural products that could be described by their ‘common’ names.
“With no regulatory definitions, the term has been extended to describe the removal of anything consumers might deem a ‘nasty’, with many of them being long-standing issues for some consumers such as excessive salt, sugar or fat.”
Meanwhile, a review of global and category trends in the area by UK-based institute Leatherhead Food Research describes the term as meaning “the removal of chemical-sounding ingredients” or “the reduction of salt or fat in order to create a simpler ingredients list that includes natural-origin-sounding ingredients or a healthier nutrient profile”.
Nonetheless, even though the term is gaining global currency among food companies, Julian Smith points out that there is no legal underpinning for the term, but adds that there is plenty of legislation in the EU and elsewhere as to what is necessary and acceptable in labelling.
Mr Smith describes “clean labels” as a clumsy term, adding that the real work needs to be on the product that allows the label to be ‘clean’ in the consumer’s perception.
Mr Smith adds: Such changes can be considerably more challenging than simply changing the presentation of a label (although sometimes a ‘common name’ can be used in lieu of an E number). If however retailers are pushing for ‘cleaner’ labels, then it is very real for manufacturers and they need to understand what is required to deliver on their customers’ or prospective customers’ demands.
“However, the individual changes being sought that are encompassed under this umbrella term could hardly be described as revolutionary. A rose by any other name is still a rose.”
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