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Transparency in Food & Beverage Manufacturing

From the moniker itself to the claims behind it, “clean label” has affected the way products are processed.


More than ever, consumers demand transparency when it comes to the foods & beverage industry. The term “clean label” encompasses this demand for transparency, simplicity, and wholesome ingredients.

Here, we explore the definition and significance of clean label, relevant regulations for clean-label claims, examples of clean-label products, and the distinguishing features of facilities producing such products.


Embracing the clean-label moniker


Clean label is a consumer-driven movement that demands simplicity and transparency in food & beverage products. It refers to clear and concise ingredient lists that customers can easily understand and identify. Picture non-GMO, organic, responsibly sourced, and no sugar, highlighted on the label, for example.


Clean label products generally contain natural and minimally processed ingredients, devoid of artificial additives, preservatives, or fillers. To be considered clean label, a product must adhere to certain criteria. It should have an ingredient list that is free from artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, and other synthetic additives.


These products often feature recognizable and familiar ingredients, making it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about their food choices. Additionally, they strive to minimize the use of chemical preservatives, opting for natural alternatives whenever possible.


Many food & beverage products tout the clean label moniker to cater to these growing consumer demands for transparency and healthier choices.


Companies are reformulating their products to remove artificial ingredients, hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and other additives commonly associated with processed foods. Health-focused brands are increasingly opting for organic and sustainably sourced ingredients to meet consumer expectations.

Companies are reformulating their products to remove additives and more closely align with clean label claims.

Regulations for clean-label products


Although there is no specific regulatory definition for clean-label products, various regulations govern the claims made on food & beverage packaging. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces guidelines that require accurate and truthful labeling. Additionally, regulatory bodies provide specific guardrails relating to organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free claims. Clean-label products must align with these regulations to ensure compliance and maintain consumer trust.


The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires that labeling claims are truthful and not misleading. The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Deception Policy demands that label and advertising claims can be adequately substantiated. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service oversees the claims made for meat and poultry products.


Independent audits by third-party certifiers, such as the Clean Label Project, the Rainforest Alliance, the Non-GMO Project, the National Organics Standards Board, and the Cold Pressure Council’s High-Pressure Certified mark can help validate clean-label claims.


Paradigm shift in manufacturing


The shift toward clean-label products necessitates food & beverage manufacturing facilities make changes that foster the ability to produce products that live up to their claims. Some key characteristics of facilities that produce clean-label goods include ingredient sourcing, enhanced supply chain transparency, hygienic design, and quality assurance.


When it comes to ingredient sourcing, clean-label facilities prioritize the use of high-quality, natural, and minimally processed ingredients. They establish strong relationships with growers, farmers, and suppliers to ensure a steady supply of clean ingredients.


Enhanced supply chain transparency is an important consideration, as well. Facilities that produce clean-label products must vet their supply chains to ensure ingredient provenance, traceability, and compliance. They maintain strict quality control measures and conduct regular audits to guarantee the integrity of the ingredients.


These facilities also use manufacturing processes that preserve the nutritional integrity of ingredients. They often employ mild processing techniques such as cold-pressing and fermentation, minimizing the need for chemical additives or excessive heat treatments.


High pressure processing (HPP), for example, provides products such as fresh beverages, salsa, and meats with a step for microbial destruction while allowing the product to maintain a nutritious and flavorful profile.


Hygienic design is also necessary to ensure that companies can make-good their claim and avoid any cross-contamination. For instance, if a product carries a “gluten-free” claim on its label, the manufacturer needs to ensure their facility is amenable to the allergen control system. Will a dedicated line or separate facility entirely be required to uphold this claim?


To meet these clean-label claims and expectations, facilities producing clean-label products must implement a robust quality assurance program, which enforces stringent testing protocols and invests in state-of-the-art equipment to detect contaminants, allergens, and ensure overall product safety.


Clean-label manufacturers should prioritize clear and concise labeling, providing consumers with easily understandable information about the product ingredients and nutritional value. Sustainable packaging options are also commonly favored on products labeled clean.

Facilities that produce clean-label products must vet their supply chains to ensure ingredient provenance, traceability, and compliance.

Wrap it up


By placing consumer demand for transparency and simpler ingredients at the forefront, the clean-label trend is transforming the food & beverage industry. With an emphasis on wholesome, natural components and a commitment to transparency, the goal of clean-label products is to meet the evolving needs of health-conscious and conscientious consumers.


While regulations govern clean-labeling claims, brands are voluntarily stepping up their game to meet consumer preferences. As the pursuit of clean labels intensifies, manufacturers must adapt their facilities to meet these demands of transparency, responsible sourcing, and cleaner production processes.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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