Brands make a ‘clean’ break from artificial ingredients and preservatives

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Consumer scrutiny on labels is becoming more pinpointed, forcing manufacturers to refomulate recipes with cleaner ingredients. Pic: GettyImages//SpicyTruffel
Consumer scrutiny on labels is becoming more pinpointed, forcing manufacturers to refomulate recipes with cleaner ingredients. Pic: GettyImages//SpicyTruffel

Related tags LEK Consulting Clean label Natural colours Natural flavours preservatives Enzymes Hydrocolloids freeze-dried ingredients Stevia Shelf life

Household brands like Kellogg’s, Mondelēz and Campbell’s have stepped up to the challenge to answer consumer demand for clean products.

According to LEK Consulting’s How the Clean-Label Mega-Trend is Changing the Food Ingredients Landscape​ report, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of processed foods and artificial ingredients, and turning their attention and wallets to clean-label products made from all-natural ingredients and not a synthetic chemical in sight.

In fact, according to the global strategy consulting firm’s research, more than 60% of consumers prefer products that claim be ‘all natural’, with ‘no artificial ingredients’ and ‘no preservatives’.


And consumer are showing no sign of backing down. Their scrutiny on labels and unpronounceable ingredients is becoming more pinpointed, forcing manufacturers to reformulate recipes with cleaner ingredients in order to stay ahead of the curve.

For example, Kellogg’s ensured its entire product line was free from artificial colours and flavours by 2018, a move matched by Campbell's and Mondelēz, among others. Nestlé has spent the past decade reformulating more than 6,500 of its products to improve their nutrition profile, and sandwich chain Panera eliminated all artificial colours, sweeteners, flavours and preservatives from its food-to-go offerings in 2016. That’s just the tip of the food industry iceberg.

“The fast-growing and evolving clean food landscape presents outsize opportunity for food ingredient manufacturers, investors and retailers,”​ said Rob Wilson, MD and partner of LEK’s Chicago office and co-author of the report.

“As interest has dramatically picked up in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down, major players must capitalise on the clean-label mega-trend to stay ahead.”

The five key ingredients dominating the clean label market


Consisting of gums and pectin, hydrocolloids are increasingly being used to provide texture and particle suspension while helping products maintain a clean label. While gums have been on the market for quite some time, ‘clean’ gums like gellan, acacia and guar are becoming popular thickening and stabilising agents, often taking the place of carrageenan, which has come under fire that it causes cancer in non-food-grade form, however, this hasn’t been proven.

Natural mould inhibitors:

The shift to clean label ingredients has made extending the shelf life of bakery products a challenge for CPG companies. For example, calcium propionate, a chemical mould inhibitor, does a great job at preserving freshness in bakery products, but manufacturers have had difficulty finding a natural alternative. Some formulators have had success in replacing artificial mould inhibitors with naturally fermenting alternatives like sorbic acid, which match the functionality and neutral flavour profile of calcium propionate.


To make it into the big league, sugar alternatives must deliver on flavour, natural purity and cost. There are a number of all-natural sweeteners on the market, today, but many producers turn to stevia as it ticks all the boxes. It’s gaining in popularity due to its affordability, improving flavour profile, lack of health or safety concerns and ease of use in a variety of applications. What’s more, advancements in stevia technology is leading to explosive growth.


Enzymes manage every biochemical reaction in the human body and play a vital role in a variety of foods, too, improving texture, visual appeal, shelf life and healthiness. The food enzyme market is expected to grow at around 7-8% per year, fuelled not only by cleaner eating but also by demand for specialist goods like gluten-free bread.

Freeze-dried fruit and veggies:


Processed fruits and vegetable pieces and powders give foods the taste and mouthfeel of the natural item, while also adding sweetness and colour. They come in myriad forms, fortify products with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and contribute to the ever-popular health and wellness lifestyle. Regulatory changes, particularly in the US, are expected to further boost the popularity of these ingredients: manufacturers are now required to identify added sugars on food labels, pushing many to substitute sugar with fruit.

Profit the most

In the report, co-authors Wilson and Peter Walter, MD of LEK’s New York office, wrote the evolving food ingredient space is offering wide open opportunities for ingredient companies and investors to capitalise on the clean label megatrend.

“For food ingredient companies, the key to success – and, ultimately, survival – is being aware of the latest clean label developments,”​ said Walter.

“And for investors, deals are abundant. Those in private equity with a tight grasp on where to position themselves to play in the ingredients space will stand to profit the most.”


Comment on “Revisiting the carrageenan controversy: do we really understand the digestive fate and safety of carrageenan in our foods?” by S. David, C. S. Levi, L. Fahoum, Y. Ungar, E. G. Meyron-Holtz, A. Shpigelman and U. Lesmes, Food Funct., 2018, 9, 1344–1352

Authors: Myra L. Weiner and James M. McKim, Jr.

Food Funct., 2019, 10, 1760-1762

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