What is Clean Label Dairy?
Dairy is traditionally known for its healthy nutrition label, which typically includes good amounts of protein, calcium, and added vitamin D to aid calcium absorption in bones. Fortunately, these nutrients are also on-trend for today’s consumers. In addition, consumers are checking the nutrition label for added sugars, which is a global trend many governments across the world are promoting to combat rising obesity.
The focus of the clean label movement, however, is not the nutrition label, but the ingredient statement. Ingredients that are simple, natural, wholesome, and traditional resonate with clean label consumers. Clean label information can also be conveyed through front-of-package claims, such as organic.
At a minimum, a clean label dairy product is free from artificial ingredients, including artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. The product is even more appealing to consumers if the ingredients are easy to recognize, don’t have chemical-sounding names, and could be found in their own kitchens.
Some product challenges to clean label reformulation include switching to natural colors, which can be less vibrant, less process tolerant, and less stable. Furthermore, for stabilizers such as modified starches, which are typically highly functional and process tolerant, as well as cost effective, it may be difficult to find one-to-one ingredient replacements. It may require higher usages of a less functional natural replacement or the use of multiple ingredients to achieve the same result, often at a higher cost.
When it comes to ingredients, the fewer, the better. And, in fact, traditional dairy products are made with very few ingredients. Yogurt contains milk and cultures, while cheese contains milk, cultures, rennet, and salt. To many consumers, a short ingredient statement signifies real food. The longer the list, the more processed the food seems.
Brands that have tapped into this perception include Haagen-Dazs, which five of their flavors - chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee and green tea - contain only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and the characterizing flavor.
The dairy alternatives is one area where the dairy industry is promoting the clean label aspect of their offerings. For example, milk is promoted as having a cleaner label than milk alternatives like soy and almond milks since it contains fewer ingredients. Many milk alternatives contain eight to twelve ingredients, including salt, sugar, stabilizers, and thickeners.
Dairy has a long tradition as a wholesome staple of a balanced diet. Anything that seems to diverge from this wholesome image can make consumers leery. Call-outs such as organic, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, grass-fed, and pasture-raised help reassure consumers that the dairy products they’re buying for themselves and their families are high quality and wholesome.
Messaging around caring for the environment and the animals, especially in reference to family farms, can reinforce the wholesome image of traditional dairy farming. Whole milk is also strongly associated with a wholesome, traditional diet and is trending right now in flavored milks and yogurts.
Transparency is closely aligned with clean label. This can include sourcing transparency, such as identifying which farms or regions the milk is from, as well as third-party certifications.
USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified American Grassfed and the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program are all certification many consumer consumers look for in order to determine if dairy products meet their individual standards.