Last year market research company Innova Market Insights declared clean label was no longer a niche trend, having made the jump to become an industry standard.
But a talk with food and beverage manufacturers, suppliers and distributors at this month's Food Ingredients in Istanbul
Price is so important
According to Orhan Ürünay, sales specialist at Doğal Katkı which is the distributer for Naturex, Cargill and IFF, the clean-label movement in Turkey is still in its infancy but within five to ten years it will be “most popular”.
Global companies operating in Turkey have already begun to make the switch from e-numbers to clean label ingredients, he said, but some Turkish manufacturers still have a clear preference for artificial colours. “For the east of Turkey and for products that are exported to the Middle East they care about the price. Because price is so important, they still use artificial colours.”
Demand is on the rise in the west of the country and especially for children’s foods and drinks.
This was confirmed by Muserref Kalay, regional director for the Middle East and Africa at stevia supplier Pure Circle. She told FoodNavigator:“Clearly people are getting more concerned about artificial ingredients and sweeteners. We don’t see that it’s too different from region to region but of course if you look at Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the three big cities, you have almost half of the population of Turkey concentrated in these three cities.
"But we see that everyone has concerns for the same thing, especially parents who are really concerned about what kids are consuming on a daily basis. Stevia is a plant. People really understand that it is natural, like sugar beet coming from a natural product so it’s not difficult to give these perceptions to consumers.”
Clean label: an imported European concept?
Regional sales manager at Hyet Sweet, which produces aspartame, acesulfame-k as well as sucralose and stevia in smaller quantites, Youssef Hamayet Elmili, doesn't agree. “In my experience, with seven years in the Turkish market, clean label doesn’t mean so much. Taste is the priority in Turkey, and price as well of course. Industrial companies are trying to influence consumers decisions today by importing some European concepts and trends but the market stays really conservative. What people want when they buy a product that is ready made [is to] to go for something that tastes good. This is [the situation] we are facing today.”
However, market research conducted by Pure Circle shows the top four most recognised sweeteners by Turkish consumers are sugar (77%) honey (74%), glucose (61%) and brown sugar (61%), and that there is little awareness for most high intensity sweeteners, including stevia.
The result is that artificial sweeteners are still dominating new product launches – despite what Pure Circle calls “clear consumer mistrust”.
Meanwhile, according to business manager for natural colours Turkey at Chr Hansen, Turgay Yiğit, there is still some confusion over what clean label actually means – but this can work to manufacturers’ advantage.
“In general the average consumer is mixing together the various product claims like ‘natural’, ‘clean label’, ‘organic’, ‘origin’ , and they are all parameters where the manufacturers are able to communicate that they have taken a decision to improve the quality of the given consumer product.”
There could also be some variations in interpretation depending on awareness of local ingredients.
“For example, a Turkish consumer is familiar with black carrot and therefore perceives it as a clean label product on the ingredient list, whereas a Western European consumer, who might not be familiar with this vegetable, might not consider this a clean label product," he said.
“In Turkey, regulation has also helped shape the perception of clean labels. For example, the use of synthetic colours was regulated in 2013, due to the Southampton study from 2008. After this change, the
packaged goods have converted rapidly to natural colours, which has led to increased consumer awareness and regulation.”