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Clean label is the major concern for EU food firms

By David Burrows , 04-Dec-2015
Last updated on 04-Dec-2015 at 13:06 GMT2015-12-04T13:06:31Z

Clean label headache for industry? “The technical issues they can handle, the health issue they can handle, but the social and ethical ones are [proving to be] much more of a challenge,” said Krishnakumar.
Clean label headache for industry? “The technical issues they can handle, the health issue they can handle, but the social and ethical ones are [proving to be] much more of a challenge,” said Krishnakumar.

The reduction of sugar and the removal of additives are currently the biggest headaches for the European food industry, according to new research.

Almost half (48%) of the 50 companies interviewed by ingredients consultancy Giract said that sugar reduction is a challenge – the majority of them seeing it as a “hot” issue.

But this isn’t the only socio-ethical challenge keeping them awake at night. Demand for ‘natural’ labelling, fat reduction and the removal of additives were also of major concern for a third or more of the businesses surveyed.

Almost two thirds (64%) said the concept of clean label is an issue – and a major one for almost one in two (46%).

Forced reformulation

The rapidly evolving food market has put considerable pressure on food companies to re‐evaluate their priorities, Giract notes in its report.

Managing director V. Krishnakumar said it is the health and ethical issues that are currently creating the most problems for the food industry rather than the technical ones.

“The technical issues they can handle, the health issue they can handle, but the social and ethical ones are [proving to be] much more of a challenge,” he said 

One company in the nutrition space noted how it is “planning to reduce all food additives” so it can meet demand for a clean label.

Another described how it had been forcedto develop new products with low or no added sugar to meet demand, as opposed to meeting legal requirements.

Krishnakumar said these kinds of statements came up time and again across a number of different categories.

Whilst reducing sugar and additives were clearly high up the agenda, reducing salt was seen as less of an issue – or at least the food industry believed this to be the case with less consumer noise around the issue.

“There is no significant demand from consumers [for reduced salt] as perceived by these companies,” Krishnakumar said. This could be an escape route given that moves to replace salt have been largely unsatisfactory, he suggested.

Free-from not a fad

The study also suggests that gluten-free is much more than a passing fad, with increased focus on a market in growth. Overall, the industry seems to be on the lookout for solutions to the growing demand from consumers for ‘free-from’ foods,” the study noted.

Focus is also on reducing many components – sugar, cholesterol, fat and salt being the key factors that bother the food industry.

Krishnakumar said it is important to note that Giract’s findings show only what the food industry “believes to be” the most pertinent consumer demands. They seem to be closely aligned with recent consumer research, however.

Analysts recently predicted several more years of increasing sales for gluten-free . But free-from more generally is also seen as a major area of opportunity – 40% of all consumers said they have avoided at least one food ingredient in the past year.

As well as the end products, Giract also looked at the challenges the food industry sees in relation to ingredients. It concluded that the major ingredients in focus follow the food concept issues closely, with fats/oils and sugar seen as problematic with R&D efforts very much focused on these ingredients.

The sustainability criteria of vegetable oils is a growing concern rather than a major one, Krishnakumar said. Palm oil, in particular, is currently in the spotlight due to the issues in Indonesia .

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