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Navigating the World of All-Natural, Clean Labels

Guest post: Rachel Zimic

Any of those with story-tellers in the family have likely heard the same tale, of how the food we eat today, and the way we eat it, is completely different than it was  many years ago. The food industry has evolved dramatically(*gasp*) in the past few decades. From the early days, when our ancestors worked hard to grow and preserve their own food, to the recent era dictated largely by convenience and technology, UberEats we’re looking at you! 

In many ways, this evolution has been extremely beneficial, as we now have greater food availability and distribution - which is a total win for us Canadians who would be without fresh produce during the Winter months – without it! However, the down-side of this revolution is that our food is often more processed, and contains more preservatives and additives to keep it ‘fresher’ for longer periods of time. Many of us want to reconnect with our natural roots, back to when we knew what was in our food, how it was grown and where it came from.

This whole movement precipitated the rise of ‘natural’ and ‘clean label’ food, a global trend that has revamped consumer attitudes. An online survey conducted by Beneo found that consumers are the most drawn to products claiming ‘natural’ ingredients and ‘clean labels’. Proving to be even more important than things like brand recognition, product taste and food safety. Taste is king? Not in this era!

It’s obvious that most of us want the highest quality food to fuel our bodies, but many may not even know what this labelling jargon truly means… If you’ve ever wondered what ‘natural’ or ‘clean label’ mean, then this one’s for you!

 

What’s the scoop onAll Natural’ labelling?

If you consider yourself a conscious shopper, you likely find yourself on a quest to find the healthiest, best products on the shelf. Many of us gravitate towards an “all natural” label, because it naturally feels like the right choice. But is it really?

For the longest time (pre-2014), the “natural” label was not regulated by the government, and so it was a bit of a free-for-all on the shelf, yikes! As a result, many big-name companies ran into trouble with the law, and the consumer, for selling products with misleading labels, claiming to be natural, but instead containing a laundry-list of synthetic additives. 

Since then, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, our noble food regulators, created a list of rules to set things straight for both the producer and consumer. In short, the rules state that foods/ingredients can only be claimed as natural if they do not, and have not ever, contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also has to be in its original form, without any significant processing. 

But, fellow shoppers be warned - one major loophole in these rules is that companies can claim a product has “natural ingredients” if it contains some ingredients that fit these criteria. This can still be misleading to the average shopper, as they may think that all ingredients in the product are natural. But not to us - knowledge is power, and now we’re navigating the shelves better, together!

 

So… What is a ‘Clean Label’?

As we already hinted, the clean label, not at all associated with ya boy Mr. Clean, is on the rise. This movement shares a similar origin story to ‘natural’ labelling, in that ‘clean label’ isn’t a well-defined term. Meaning that clean label marketing isn’t yet regulated by the government. So really, any product on the shelf can claim to be ‘clean label’ without having any of the interpreted qualities of ‘clean’ food. 

Also, because of this lacking definition, clean labels can mean very different things to different people. The most common interpretations of clean labelling include free-from claims and short, transparent ingredient lists. Free-from claims indicate that a product has no detectable traces of a specific ingredient. Examples include ‘gluten-free’, ‘no preservatives’, or ‘free from artificial colours and flavours’. Simple ingredient lists have also become important, with consumers wanting products that have minimal, simple ingredients. Lots of value is placed on wholesome ingredients that are easily recognizable, and pronounceable, to the average non-scientist. 

But like a pair of worn-in jeans, clean labelling is flexible. It can extend to include organic certification, diet-friendly claims (keto, paleo), and the list goes on!

Going through all of the parts of a clean label would cause information overload, so to minimize any major headaches, I’ll stick to highlighting a few of the big ones that are included on Holy Crap labels - so you can better understand what these claims mean.

Gluten-Free:On all packages of Holy Crap cereal, you’ll notice a “gluten-free” symbol and claim front and (bottom left) corner. Gluten-free is a regulated term that indicates our product has been tested to have less than 20 ppm gluten. This is vitally important to the gluten allergy, gluten intolerance and Celiac disease folk, and so it is regulated carefully. 

Organic:Holy Crap cereals are certified Organic in both Canada and the U.S. Meaning that our products have an organic content of greater than 95%, which is verified by a third-party organization. Organic certification also indicates that our products are non-GMO, hormone-free and sustainably-farmed. Check back soon to learn more about Organic Certification in future blogs 👀.

Kosher: Our products contain the “KV” symbol on the back of the package, which symbolizes that it is Kosher (meets the requirements of the Kashruth, as identified by a Rabbi). While this isn’t traditionally recognized as ‘clean label’, it indicates that the product doesn’t contain food items which are not kosher. Such as certain animals, fowl and fish. Although it seems intuitive that cereals wouldn’t contain these ingredients - a cereal can be non-kosher if it contains a flavouring that is extracted from a certain mammal which is non-kosher, which actually does happen! Kosher is also usually linked with a transparent ingredient list, clean suppliers, and production practices.

Natural: To be clear, this isn’t one of our claims, actually one of our products is named “Natural”. While all of our products are technically all-natural, we named this one because of its lack of flavouring. Our other cereals, like apple cinnamon, maple oats, and blueberry apple, contain fruit or spices to add flavour, which they are named after. On the other hand, our Natural product is in its purest form, with only our three base ingredients - and no additional ingredients, so we called it Natural!

As our world continues to advance, it’s important that we can continue to expand our knowledge with it. Hopefully this can serve you, the consumer, as a guide to modern food labels!

 


About guest writer, Rachel Zimic

Rachel is a Master’s of Science student finishing her last semester at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and she came to us in search of a virtual internship.

With an extensive background in science communication, human health and nutritional science, we knew she could add value to our small, but mighty, team.

Over the past few months, Rachel has been working in the shadows, helping create and edit content for the website, conduct market research, and write educative blog posts. Also, the president of Holy Crap, Donna, has been teaching her all about the business - from operations to sales and marketing, which Rachel claims has been vital to her learning. While her internship is finishing, we’re happy to announce that she will continue to write blogs for us.



References

Asioli, D., Aschemann-Witzel, J., Caputo, V., Vecchio, R., Annunziata, A., Næs, T., & Varela, P. (2017). Making sense of the "clean label" trends: A review of consumer food choice behavior and discussion of industry implications.Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.),99(Pt 1), 58–71.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2017.07.022

Government of Canada. (2019). Allergen-free, gluten-free and cross-contamination statements. Retrieved from:https://www.inspection.gc.ca/food-label-requirements/labelling/industry/allergens-and-gluten/eng/1388152325341/1388152326591?chap=2

Government of Canada. (2019). Methods of production claims: Kosher. Retrieved from:https://www.inspection.gc.ca/food-label-requirements/labelling/industry/method-of-production-claims-on-food-labels/eng/1389379565794/1389380926083?chap=5

Government of Canada. (2019). Method of production claims on food labels: Nature, natural. Retrieved from:https://www.inspection.gc.ca/food-label-requirements/labelling/industry/method-of-production-claims-on-food-labels/eng/1389379565794/1389380926083?chap=3

Government of Canada. (2019). Organic claims on food labels. Retrieved from:https://www.inspection.gc.ca/food-label-requirements/labelling/industry/organic-claims-on-food-labels/eng/1389725994094/1389726052482?chap=5

Ingredients Network. (2018). Clean label comes ahead of brand. Retrieved from:https://www.ingredientsnetwork.com/clean-label-comes-ahead-of-brand-news075108.html

Lusk J. L. (2019). Consumer beliefs about healthy foods and diets.PloS one,14(10), e0223098.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223098

Tech Republic. (2014). 10 ways technology is changing our food. Retrieved from:https://www.techrepublic.com/article/10-ways-technology-is-changing-our-food/