The future of clean label series: Formulation and production

April 15, 2019 | Clean and simple ingredients

In the second of our blogs exploring the future of simple, natural and clean label products, we share our panellists’ views on how this trend will impact formulation, innovation and production. Here’s what you need to know about the future of clean label – now.

Natural order

Using established and new ingredients that naturally deliver functionality will be of increasing importance in the years ahead. This focus will extend to how products are made, making familiar and natural processes, such as fermentation, a popular choice.

Personalised nutrition

The role of personalised nutrition will become ever more complex as consumer expectations rise.

  • Changing ingredient composition will no longer be enough – texture differentiation will be added to the mix.
  • Producers will need to offer greater choice, not only for eating preferences but also for specific health and nutrition requirements.
  • This will take customisation to a whole new level. It means a rapid acceleration of the developments we are seeing now, i.e. where small-scale operations work with relatively straightforward dry ingredients. By broadening the scope to include ready meals, sauces and soups, the challenge will be much greater. It will require careful management of operational efficiencies to ensure commercial viability.
  • In the meantime, the growing free-from category could be the first to take personalised nutrition into the mainstream. The challenge for formulation teams is to address lingering negative perceptions of taste and texture by creating products that appeal to the widest possible range of consumer tastes and preferences.

Perfect imperfections

Consumer demand for home-style cooking and less uniform products will continue to grow. But this nostalgia for simple food could present complications for formulators going forward.

  • A potential challenge is that ‘retro-style’ products must be produced within the confines of manufacturing efficiency.
  • Processing times and optimal utilisation could be seriously compromised in the drive to give consumers what they want.

The rise of the refrigerator

We will see the popularity of refrigerated and frozen foods continue to rise. This will be largely due to consumers regarding them as the next best thing to fresh. For formulators, this prospect is a mixed blessing.

  • On one hand, manufacturing refrigerated products has its plus sides. They don’t need to be shelf-stable, require minimal processing and offer greater recipe freedoms.
  • However, on the other hand, frozen goods must maintain stability throughout freeze/thaw cycles, which places stringent constraints on formulation techniques.

Manufacturing 4.0

Production in the next decade will see a shift from traditional manufacturing. One central factory producing large volumes of a few select products for global distribution will no longer be a winning business model. Instead, the focus will be on offering flexibility and the ability to fulfil smaller batch runs of multiple lines.

This disruptive approach will allow manufacturers to:

  • Successfully meet consumer demand for seasonal and sustainable ingredients. This could lead to more compact manufacturing operations or so-called ‘dark room’ factories which only operate seasonally.
  • Operate on a more modular basis, where ingredients are cooked separately to optimise quality and nutritional value. With total control over when and where components are added during the process, products will be as close as possible to home-style cooking, satisfying another important consumer preference.
  • Consider the creation of specialist allergen-free brands with dedicated facilities.

The future of clean label formulation and production

Clean label food manufacture is immediately impacted by and highly dependent upon the fast-evolving requirements of consumers, which will always present a challenge.

Consumers will increasingly demand natural, seasonal, non-uniform and non-mass-produced food items while expecting them to be quickly and widely accessible due to technology and globalisation. This paradox will be difficult to reconcile.

Manufacturers who are prepared to change their processes, production quantities, operations and even product lines to respond to clean label needs will no doubt be best-positioned to respond to changes in the marketplace in the years ahead.