Consumers across the World are seeking dairy products with natural and wholesome ingredients, especially in the yoghurt space – as the clean label trend evolves into the mainstream

By Catherine Wanjiku

The popular trend of healthy living has made consumers to demand the freshest, most natural, organic and wholesome food products. This shift has led to rise of a mega global trend known as “clean label.” A juggernaut it has become that the clean label ingredients market was valued at US$38.8 billion in 2018, and is projected to reach US$64.1 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 6.8% from 2019 to 2026, according to Report Linker.

In a 2019 Innova Market Insights survey, the market researcher asked consumers about their perception of clean label. From the research, 30 percent of global consumers said they consider a food or beverage to fit the definition when they have no additives or preservatives. Moreover, 24 percent of global consumers chose “no artificial colours or flavours,” and 23 percent went for “organic.”

The dairy aisle is no exception even if traditionally milk and its derivative products are known for their nutritional composition, which typically includes good amounts of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. The focus of the clean label movement is not just the nutrition factor, but also the ingredients statement.

In an interview with Food Business News, Ivan Gonzales, Marketing Director-Dairy at Ingredion Inc, indicated that the global ingredients solutions company undertook a research that highlighted recognition and acceptability of ingredients varies according to the food product and where it is being used. “Across the different food categories investigated, dairy and more specifically yogurt, was the one where consumers showed higher level of attention and awareness of the ingredients and claims used in their products of preference,” he said.

The sentiments were echoed by Pam Stauffer, Global Marketing Programs Manager, Cargill, Minneapolis who stated that, “According to Cargill proprietary consumer research, more than half of consumers have heard of clean label, but only 1 in 10 is confident they know what it means. Despite that uncertainty, 8 in 10 consumers say they are somewhat likely to seek clean label products. In particular, many consumers set a high clean label bar for dairy products, which they inherently view as healthy. When Cargill asked consumers to identify the products, they pay closest attention to, dairy products and yogurt scored high.”

A survey in 2014 by DSM found strong support for clean label yoghurt, with 49% of consumers willing to pay 10% more for yogurt that is free from artificial additives and preservatives, and 45% would pay at least 10% more for yogurt that is free from artificial colors and flavors.

Attraction at first sight

Coupled with consumers becoming more conscious, informed and connected as they closely examine the nutritional composition of food products and factoring them into their purchase decision, food manufacturers have become edgy in the game in a bid to instantly appeal to the consumer. Clean label information are now conveyed through front-of-package claims such as organic, all natural, no additives or nothing artificial.

Entering the industry’s parlance, almost 28% of global food and beverage launches that Innova recorded in 2018 used one or more clean-label claims, which include natural, organic, no additives/preservatives and GMO-free. In the United States, the figure was even higher, with 39%.

No additives/preservatives claims continued to feature most strongly, used for just over 15% of global launches in 2018, rising to over 20% within a year in the US. The US generally sees higher levels of use of all types of clean label positioning and is also particularly notable for the strong position of GMO-free labelling. This featured on 17.8% of launches, compared with just 6% globally and was also the number two clean label claim in the US overall, well ahead of both organic on just over 13% and natural on just over 8%.

Consumers don’t just stop at the eye-catching claims as they flip the pack to set their eyes on the ingredients list. It’s worth noting that generational differences come into play within this space. According to C+R Research, Gen X consumers are less likely to be concerned about ingredients and additives than millennial and baby boomers are. A 2017 Packaged Facts US National Consumer Survey concurs with this finding as more than a third of younger consumers, those between 18 and 34 years old, said they were paying more attention to product claims and nutritional information for plant milks, cheese, and dairy milk, among other products.

Cringing at longer ingredients lists

When it comes to ingredients, the fewer, the better. It’s an added advantage if the ingredients listed are recognizable, with less mention of artificial ingredients and additives. This is tied to the fact that traditional dairy products are made with very few ingredients e.g. yogurt contains milk and cultures, while cheese contains milk, cultures, rennet, and salt.

“Globally, 82% of consumers find it important to recognize the ingredients in the foods and beverages they buy, and for 81%, a short and simple ingredient list is important,” says Pat O’Brien, Ingredion regional platform leader, clean & simple ingredients, U.S./Canada.

Brands that have tapped into this perception include Haagen-Dazs, an American ice cream brand, with all its varieties containing only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and the characterizing flavor (e.g., cocoa, mint, coffee, lemon, or vanilla bean).

In 2015, Kraft Heinz quietly removed artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its flagship macaroni & cheese and were replaced by natural colors from paprika, annatto, and turmeric. The same year, WhiteWave Foods’ International Delight brand, now owned by Danone, launched a new line of coffee creamers called Simply Pure, made with skim milk, cream, cane sugar, and natural three flavors including vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut.

Nestle also joined the bandwagon with nine of its Dreyer’s and Edy’s Slow Churned ice-creams re-branded to Slow Churned Simple Recipes, containing no more than eight ingredients, compared to the previous average of 22. Artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, and GMO ingredients have been eliminated, and the milk comes from cows not treated with rBST growth hormones.

Israel based plant-based food start-up Yofix Probiotic Ltd launched in 2018 its first dairy-free, soy-free yogurt alternative line, expanding its plant-based food and drinks platform. The new line produces three fruit flavors made from natural ingredients using zero-waste process that involves fermentation.

According to the company, the product utilizes live probiotic cultures and prebiotic fibers contained in them to provide a nutritional and expedient diet for especially vegans, and was developed through it’s advanced technology, Bio 5 formula to achieve stability and texture without the use of additives such as gums, thickeners, sugars or colours.

Dairy companies in Africa are not left behind. Brookside Dairy, Eastern Africa’s largest dairy operator has been launching its new yoghurt brands including its flagship Brookside, Delamere and Tuzo that are free from preservatives and artificial colours. In South Africa, Woolworths is well known for their rBST-free and preservative free milk products.

Suppliers weigh in

Supporting the dairy processors quest of providing clean label products, Arla Foods Ingredients launched its first clean-label ambient yogurt concept to meet Chinese demand in 2020. The new solution is the first of its kind, says the company. It uses Nutrilac YO-4575, a 100% natural whey protein, to give unrefrigerated yogurts a premium positioning with all-natural ingredients.

“Ambient yogurts with a natural label are looking more and more like a major opportunity to capture a slice of China’s growing yogurt market. But to be part of this journey, manufacturers need to offer something different. Clean-label products are the perfect way for brands to differentiate in the category, while tapping into demand for premium products,” said Torben Jensen, Senior Category Manager, FDP, at Arla Foods Ingredients. The food ingredients business of Danish dairy giant, Arla Foods also recently launched the first ever organic micellar casein isolate, helping manufacturers meet demand for organic, natural and functional protein products.

DSM, active in the health and nutrition field, launched a benzoate-free cheese-ripening enzyme Accelerzyme® CPG that allows cheese makers to respond to growing consumer demand for dairy products with a clean and clear label, by eliminating the use of artificial preservatives in cheese processing. DSM is further upgrading its entire cheese enzyme portfolio in response to this need.

 Evolution of clean label

Clean label standards are moving beyond the substitution of artificial additives or the removal of controversial ingredients. There have been associated rises of interest in areas such as raw and paleo diets and focus on minimal processing, including the use of techniques such as cold-pressing and high-pressure treatment. In addition, claims relating to human and animal welfare are also on the increase with much attention on supply chain transparency and sustainable sourcing.

“The clean-label trend has broadened into a wider movement, focusing on an increasingly mindful consumer trying to make responsible food choices that are not only tasty and healthy, but also sustainable and ethical,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation for Innova Market Insights. “This is running alongside increasingly wide ethical concerns, including fair trade and sustainability, packaging, the environment and animal welfare.”

According to Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends for 2021, 60% of global consumers are interested in learning more about where their foods come from. Transparency is set to dominate consumer demand in 2021 with brands adopting and pairing new packaging technologies such as invisible barcodes and near-field communication technology with creative, meaningful storytelling to be the winners.

Nestlé recently launched the Skimmelkrans Net Zero Carbon Emissions Project in George, South Africa, aimed to create the company’s first carbon neutral dairy farm. Under the project, the food giant has committed that by 2023 the farm will be carbon net zero and will result in better care and nutrition for the cows, as well as better nutrition in the milk products produced, giving consumers a safe, environmentally friendly product.

Clean label has gone mainstream and shows no signs of slowing down. It will be interesting to see how the food and beverage industry stays ahead of the trend considering its ever-changing disposition.

This feature appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Food Business Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE