How clean label ingredients affect packaging

28 May 2018

When companies consider ‘cleaning up’ their product labels, they often focus primarily on how to remove or replace certain ingredients – but they should also consider implications for product packaging.

How clean label ingredients affect packaging

Clean label is difficult to define. It encompasses the idea of ‘natural’ but has become much more than that in recent years, expanding to include concerns about allergens, how ingredients are produced, whether they are humanely or ethically sourced, and perhaps whether they are organic. But when it comes to how consumers decide which products have the cleanest labels, packaging matters.

Innova Market Insights said in 2014 that clean label had become ‘clear label’, meaning that consumers were looking for greater transparency from food companies about what was in their products. From a packaging point of view too, some firms have taken this quite literally. The Kind range of snack bars, for example, features a transparent panel on the front of the product showcasing whole ingredients, like nuts and fruit, so consumers can see exactly what they are buying.

On the other hand, clean label products do not always lend themselves to such literal transparency. For example, switching out artificial colours and replacing them with natural ones sometimes means choosing ingredients that are more susceptible to degradation when exposed to light, so companies have needed to use opaque packaging materials to prevent undesirable colour changes. Sometimes, moving from artificial preservatives to naturally sourced ones may also require more robust packaging to supplement the effect of a weaker antioxidant preservative system.

Following reformulation, manufacturers will also need to think about which attributes would be most beneficial to call out on-pack. Largely, this depends on the category and the target consumer. “No artificial additives” might be a particularly important claim for children’s foods, while in snack products, allergen-free claims might be of interest. However, dairy proteins could be appealing in another context, such as in sports nutrition, and it is possible to leverage an ingredient list that includes butter or cream, for example, to give an impression of old-fashioned wholesomeness.

Other companies have chosen to underline the naturalness of their products with more natural-looking materials, such as recycled paper, or by emphasising environmentally friendly packaging, such as degradable plastics. Swiss Pac is among the packaging specialists offering custom oxo-degradable bags as part of its product range, while even the agribusiness giant Cargill has broadened its product portfolio to include more starches for use in packaging as the sector has expanded.

As consumer demand for clean label products continues to grow, companies need to consider what that means for the whole product as it appears in the supermarket. Packaging must be part of that equation, from a technical standpoint, as well as a marketing one.

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