Clean Labels

Clean labeling means different things to different people. To some, a clean label means a product free of chemicals or artificial ingredients. To others, it may mean a product with Non-Gmo ingredients. Whatever the case may be, the trend is products that are better for the consumer and the environment.

Clean labels do not have a legal definition, but rather, are defined by consumer preference. Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in a shopping experience where they can purchase products without an ingredient list that takes up half the package. Consumers crave natural products devoid of artificial flavors, colors, additives, and ingredients that are Non-GMO. Brands know this and make sure their packaging labels draw those consumers in. For this reason, companies are choosing to label their packages with phrases such as “no artificial preservatives,” “100% natural,” “GMO-free,” and so on. Two words commonly used to promote a clean label are natural and organic. Let’s look at those terms a bit more.

Natural is a word applied to many packages. This can cause some issues, as it is hard to define exactly what natural means. Companies could argue that all of their ingredients are natural because they all started that way, but processing foods is what complicates the term. When is something processed to the extent that it is no longer natural? Currently, a food product can be labeled natural if it is free of any artificial and synthetic ingredients (including all color additives), as stated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Organic labeling is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP) which is overseen by the USDA. The regulations can be found in title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations part 205. If the product has been bioengineered, it cannot fall under the organic certification. There are four basic National Organic Program categories:

  • 100% organic—meaning it contains all organically sourced ingredients

  • Organic—if it is labeled with just the phrase organic, this means the product is made up of at least 95 % organic ingredients

  • Made with organic ingredients—means the product is at least 70% organic

    • If the product is less than 70%, there cannot be a label on the package, but the ingredients listed can disclose which ingredients are organic

So, just what exactly is the difference between the USDA organic seal and a standard organic label? To place the USDA organic label on your product, there are specific requirements which must be met:

  • The product must be produced without methods such as genetic engineering or ionizing radiation

  • The product must only use the ingredients listed on the national list of allowed and prohibited substances

  • A USDA certifying agent must oversee the process to verify that the product follows all regulations

If a product is 100% organic (following these requirements), it will receive the official seal (shown here). If only 95% of the product is organic, it will have just the organic phrase.

The clean labeling trend is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Consumers are more concerned than ever about the ingredients not only in their food, but their cosmetics, vitamins, household cleaning products, and more. Labeling your product correctly to fit this growing demand will keep you from being overlooked for the more natural option sitting beside your product on the retail shelf or the eCommerce website.

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