Clean Label Product Innovation and Renovation

Originally Published: October 6, 2020
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
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Clean Label Product Innovation and Renovation

CONSUMER DEMAND FOR CLEAN LABEL has been growing for more than five years. In many countries, it has become the new normal for a majority of consumers, noted Philippe Rousset, Ph.D., Global Clean Label Strategic Network Leader at the Nestlé Product Technology Center Beverage, in Orbe, Switzerland, in his presentation titled “Successes and Challenges of Clean Label in Food and Beverage: An Industry Perspective.”

Initially, clean label merely corresponded to the request for products made with a few, familiar ingredients. “Consumers have started to look more in detail at the product labels and be concerned about long lists of ingredients whose names were unfamiliar to them,” explained Rousset. “And, the emergence of ‘food shopping’ smartphone apps, like Yuka or EWG, has allowed them to very easily know which ingredients are undesirable with a quick product barcode scan.” Now, consumers are, in addition, requesting “more naturality, more transparency in the manufacturing process,” as well as in the origin and sustainability of the ingredients, he added.

Chart presnted by Philippe Rousset of Nestle Product Technology Center showing challenges in renovating existing products to meet consumer expectations of clean label.

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The process of creating clean label products is not so simple— especially when an entire food and beverage portfolio of existing products is considered. Customers expect clean products to conform to a company’s brand in sensory profile, cost, functionality and shelflife—albeit produced with traceable and sustainably sourced, recognizable ingredients.

Greater consumer demand for clean label food has prompted the entire industry to develop or complete an offering: This includes grocery chains, food manufacturers, food ingredient suppliers, restaurants and other foodservice outlets. The number of clean label launches has doubled in the last five years and is expected to continue growing at a fast pace, Rosset averred.

On the retailer side, “Several grocery stores have developed a negative list of forbidden ingredients for all or a specific range of their private labels ranges,” explained Rousset. Kroger, for instance, has strict requirements for its line of natural and organic products sold under its private label brand, Simple Truth®, with more than 100 undesirable ingredients.

Food manufacturers in a similar and more limited way, have committed to move towards cleaner label products. In this category, noted Rousset, there are a lot of small players that have started fully clean from the beginning.

Clean label demand has, of course, trickled down to the ingredient suppliers’ level. “Ingredient suppliers have started to develop a range of clean label ingredients and additives with the functionality needed to replace existing artificial additives,” said Rousset. It is particularly important for some suppliers to take action, in the event their non-clean additives become obsolete, he added. Clean-by-design development of products typically poses less of a challenge than renovation of products, as there is no existing reference. Indeed, for the renovation of an existing product, consumers expect no change in sensory quality, whether in appearance, taste or texture—but they want a label improvement. The manufacturer wants to produce at a similar cost and with a similar shelflife.

“So, the key challenge is to be able to make the renovated product with the same sensory quality; with cleaner ingredients; at a competitive cost; and with a similar shelflife,” explained Rousset. “Sensory might be affected by all ingredients; shelflife by functional additives. Cost is potentially a big hurdle for colors and flavors. In the end, success or challenges will depend a lot on the consumer expectations for these products,” Rousset added.

Rousset described Nestlé’s strategy for renovating a portfolio of products as follows: 1) Obtain consumers’ insight as to which ingredient they value and which ingredient they reject; 2) Assess the status of the products portfolio to determine reformulation needs; 3) Identify replacement solutions—work with suppliers if necessary; and 4) Use these solutions to renovate portfolio, as needed.

Differences in consumer preferences and regulations from country to country also pose a whole new set of challenges—above and beyond sensory perception, quality, cost and functionality of reformulated products. Rousset presented an example of a company producing fruity-flavored cereals sold in the U.S. and Canada. While U.S. consumers of this product accept Red 40, Blue 1 and Yellow 6 artificial colors, as well as BHT for added freshness, Canadian consumers do not. The cereal made for Canada contains, instead, fruit and vegetable juice concentrates, anthocyanin, turmeric and annatto as colorants, and no antioxidants—with an increased cost and possibly shorter shelflife.

Rousset concluded by reiterating that “clean label is a complex global trend, because it is a consumer perception, and because it encompasses several transparency aspects that the consumer wants to see more of in his products.”

Clean label has become mainstream in many countries, with de- mands for a simple label with fewer and recognizable ingredients. A lot of clean-by-design product launches are taking place, mainly in the premium range. The renovation of core products is key, yet difficult, depending on the iconicity of products and the consumer clean label expectations for a particular category, Rousset added. “A clear company strategy is helpful to define the roadmap to achieve the ambitious goal requested by our consumers,” he concluded.

“Successes and Challenges of Clean Label in Food and Beverage: An Industry Perspective,” Philippe Rousset, Ph.D., White Coffee and Creamers Technology Lead, Global Clean Label Strategic Network Leader, Nestlé Product Technology Center Beverage

This presentation was given at the 2020 Clean Label Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to

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