Posted by Sandra Gebauer Kelly on Oct 15, 2018

The push for natural, recognizable and streamlined ingredients in consumer products is a rising tide sweeping over food manufacturers and retailers. Today, 42% of consumers say manufacturers’ food attributes are essential to their brand loyalty(1), while 52% say they now check labels before purchase to determine if products are listed as organic, cruelty-free or other health standards(2).


These clean labeling trends have brought new elements of food transparency and authenticity to the table, along with the manufacturing and labeling of healthy foods with fewer ingredients and additives.

What Clean Labeling Means for Manufacturers

Clean labeling is hardly clear-cut. While the clean labeling movement creates more transparency by aligning consumer desires with product output, it does not yet align with clearly-defined regulatory requirements. As major retailers and manufacturers get in the fray of defining their clean labeling standards, the list of requirements is mostly a moving target.

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Companies that want to demonstrate clean label support are left to define what clean label parameters means for their product specifications and how it will impact raw materials sourcing, labeling design and product formulation. Yet, when complex formulations and ingredient lists are involved, merely stripping formulations down to a few key ingredients may become more of a challenge. Keeping track of which additives are or aren’t being used across product lines can quickly muddle product data management and regulatory control, and requires tighter control over supplier and vendor interactions.

The Three-Step Business Approach to Clean Labeling

Companies that have a formula-based PLM system in place can ease the burden of reacting to and staying ahead clean labeling trends in a number of ways.

Define Exactly What Clean Label Parameters Mean for Your Company

Manufacturers should define the parameters for clean labels. What does a product need to have (or not have) to be called a clean label? What does this mean for the safety, regulatory, product development and quality assurance arms of the company? 

For example, you may determine that citric acid is an additive to be avoided for clean labeling and opt to replace it with lemon juice even if the chemical makeup of those ingredients may be similar. With that change in mind, begin thinking about how that will affect the collection and presentation of product data in your product specifications. Selerant's formula-based PLM solution Devex has a data view that can help you quickly find which product formulations and specifications would be affected by an ingredient or raw material change. 

Create Clean Label-Only Specifications within Your PLM System

Once you’ve determined the limits and ingredients that are or aren’t allowed in clean label products, you should decide how you’ll create a product specification precisely for those ingredients and what that means for the ingredient details. In Devex PLM, you can create a separate specification for your clean label product, allowing you to manage and copy shared product data and modify clean label specifications alongside other product specifications all within one system. 

For example, if you’re using a lemon juice ingredient, you may set a different acid level in your clean label specification than identical products that only differ in the percentage of acid content. Selerant’s Devex also enables you quickly to compare ingredients against those specified limits as you build a formulation, so you know if your components are continually in compliance with the clean labeling parameters you’ve set. 

Control Supplier Raw Material Data Against Those Parameters

Once you’ve outlined the clean label specification details, begin by understanding how new requirements will affect your supplier relationships and ingredient sources to make the specification accurate. 

With Selerant’s Supplier Collaboration Portal, you can create a detailed survey for your suppliers that includes questions that aligned with clean label parameters. You can build questionnaires that ask about specific additives or ingredients you need to avoid for clean labeling. Compare those answers to existing raw materials you receive and insert those clean raw materials into the clean label specifications. 

Creating clean label products may seem to be time-consuming and a somewhat nebulous process. Using a PLM system with built-in specification management and supplier/vendor collaboration makes it possible to manage clean label processes as a part of the typical product lifecycle management. The same mechanisms and tools that you already have in place for regular product development can be used to create a recipe, nutritional statement or label that adheres to clean label standards. The Selerant Supplier Collaboration Portal and Devex system ease the burden of enforcing these company-defined standards across a wide variety of scenarios and specifications.

(1)  “2017 Food & Health Survey: A Healthy Perspective: Understanding American Food Values.” International Food Information Council Foundation. May 2017.

(2) “The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility.” Nielsen. July 2014.