Consumers are now looking for less processed products that are free from controversial ingredients. They thus prefer items with a “Clean Label”, indicating the absence of certain additives. According to a 2013 MEDIAPRISM study, 63% of consumer respondents said a “natural” food was one that did not contain any chemicals, and 42% said “natural” foods had to be unprocessed (FOOD BEHAVIOUR IN 2025 - TRENDS AND IMPACTS – DECEMBER 2016). The Clean Label is a clear and understandable statement for consumers, but it does not have an official definition, let alone a legal one.
What is the clean label?
Lack of regulation
Although there is a real regulatory vacuum around the concept of the Clean Label, it nevertheless encourages agrifood, nutraceuticals and cosmetics companies to avoid the use of controversial ingredients such as additives, artificial colours and even flavour enhancers. While the concept is still vague, some manufacturers concerned about consumer satisfaction are trying to meet their demand for “naturalness”. They use familiar ingredients, implement simpler manufacturing processes, and promote local ingredients and the absence of GMOs. The Clean Label therefore not only involves developing a simple recipe; it is also a concept that promotes authenticity, balanced food and naturalness in order to reassure and reconnect with the consumer.
Reduction and simplification of the ingredients list
Food is a major concern for consumers who are trying to manage their health. According to a 2012 TNS study, 80% of consumers say they are interested in seeking out natural products in the food sector (FOOD BEHAVIOUR IN 2025 - TRENDS AND IMPACTS – DECEMBER 2016). Consumers are concerned about the potential risk of certain foods to their health and now prefer more “natural” products and, in particular, “free from” products: products made without GMOs, antibiotics or additives.
A major challenge for companies is therefore simplifying the list of ingredients in the composition of their products. Scientific terms sometimes scare consumers and some simple tricks can change their perspective on the product. The most cautious consumers are thus reassured by ingredients lists featuring “gum arabic” rather than “E414”, two terms that designate the same additive.
An evolution of the Clean Label concept
Now, the concept of the Clean Label goes far beyond simply reducing the list of ingredients. While it mainly refers to the use of clear words on packaging and the reduction of additives, it now also encompasses the desire to offer “ethical” products that meet a set of environmental and social criteria. Some manufacturers highlight the organic, Fair Trade or GMO-free nature of their products. The Hartman Group research and consulting firm mapped the creation of a Clean Label for American consumers. They revealed that this not only makes consumers think about a reduction in the number of ingredients but also encompasses other concepts such as production methods and nutrition.
The concept of the Clean Label has evolved and now covers the entire production chain. Consumers reject GMOs and are clearly in favour of reducing the use of chemicals in agricultural production, particularly with the appeal of organic products...
The clean label, a challenge for manufacturers
A response to changes in consumption
Concerns about food have increased significantly. Consumers are worried about their health. Increasingly vigilant, they now want as much information as possible about the products they are buying. The desire for naturalness highlighted by the Clean Label responds to this need to reassure consumers, in a context where certain compounds have been associated with a risk of developing diseases.
Communicating about the Clean Label makes it possible to attract new demanding consumers, reassure existing customers and differentiate oneself in the market. Committing to the Clean Label makes it possible to meet a well-identified expectation and keep up with the evolution of the population’s food consumption. The later is demanding more transparency and seeking to trust manufacturers.
Manufacturers are implementing more streamlined packaging, clearer labels and transparent containers that make it possible to see the product and reassure consumers. We are also seeing the development of “smart labels” - connected labels giving access to different information via smartphones and tablets.
Strong consumer demand, but difficulties remain for manufacturers
Industry leaders must expand R &D efforts to change recipes by removing and replacing traditional additives, flavours and texturants. Preserving the taste qualities and shelf life of products and is thus proving to be a major challenge for industry leaders. These changes naturally generate costs due to the potential need to develop new processes.
The nutritional value of the product is of interest to consumers and encourages the manufacturer to develop gentler manufacturing processes, which limit the deterioration of nutritional qualities. However, certain ingredients whose use is to be limited also have preservative properties. If the number of solutions to minimise the amount of additives in recipes is limited, consumers need to accept that the products they buy will have a shorter lifespan.
Today, the Clean Label represents a real opportunity for brands to rework their recipes and, for consumers, a return to simpler, healthier foods.
- EATING HABITS IN 2025 - TRENDS AND IMPACTS - DECEMBER 2016