Posted: December 17, 2020
Author: Antje Collman, Food Scientist

Many of our customers are facing more stringent ingredient restrictions because of supply chain demands and constraints in the retail channels in which they sell. Retailers want a way to differentiate their product selection and give consumers a reason to buy from them instead of their competitors. And right now, using clean label ingredients and avoiding all the artificial and “no-no” ingredients is what we see as the best option in-store and online to get consumers to put items in their cart. With an increase in online shopping and grocery delivery (fueled by the pandemic), it’s easier than ever to see and read labels and taglines on an item. And this makes this information a critical selling point.

Over time, we’ve seen an increase in the number of consumers taking charge of their nutritional wellbeing and paying closer attention to food labels. According to Mintel, 88% of label readers look at one of the more specific nutritional components. This heightened level of label scrutiny challenges us as food and beverage developers to create products with consumer-friendly labels that still retain great taste.

An Evolving Concept

The industry’s use of ingredient and formula restrictions started out strictly from a nutritional perspective. Consumers and producers were more concerned about the appearance of health with low fat/sodium/carb products than the taste, and those types of products dominated the market. As consumers became more educated and worldviews changed, the desires for “clean label” and what that means, changed as well. It was no longer enough to be a low-sugar product. The sugar also needed to be organic, non-GM and ethically sourced/harvested. While people may not always want to pay a premium, they care about appearances, and they want to consume good quality food that makes them feel good while eating it.

Developing with Restrictions

Different treatment methods on spices (such as irradiation, ethylene oxide, steam, and being left untreated) are restricted by certain retailers and can be confusing to navigate. The restrictions make formulation difficult depending on the end use of the product, the source of herbs/spices, and the number of retailer restrictions you are dealing with. Some retailers will allow irradiation because they are concerned about microbiological levels, but others are more concerned with perception and will only allow steam treated or untreated spices that have a cleaner label appeal.

Flavoring component restrictions (solvents and carriers especially) are also not always clear or consistent, and when trying to develop a well-flavored prime product for the customer, some concessions must be made. Having to change out the carrier in a spray dried flavor is common as well. Maltodextrin, which is typically corn based and viewed as less clean label even if it is Identity Preserved or non-GM, is often swapped for gum Arabic that is viewed in a much better light. When it comes to liquid flavors, we want to avoid solvents like propylene glycol (PG) and stick with a more natural option like glycerin or alcohol (as long as the blend doesn’t need to be halal).

When only one restriction is in place, it is not so difficult, but once they start stacking, the development becomes exponentially harder. When you are developing a conventional product, you have hundreds of thousands of ingredients to work with. Adding in restrictions like ingredients must be organic, non-GMO Project Verified, gluten free, and/or vegan that number can drop to hundreds. Flavor choices are also significantly limited, and functional ingredients are harder to find because many are typically genetically modified to improve their functional properties.

A Cleaner Future

In the future, I imagine food labels and restrictions will become more consistent across the board. I don’t see restrictions lessening in any way, but I do see a consensus coming on a universal list of Restricted Ingredients for Retail. And that will be a welcome advance.

Nevertheless, Wixon has been formulating to these standards as long as they have existed, and we continue to adapt as needed. Our seasoned regulatory department helps us and our purchasing team stay abreast of claim changes, so we can source the best materials for the task as quickly and efficiently as possible for any blend we need to create.

For access to our complete retailer restrictions list, contact your Account Manager or email us at to begin your next clean label project.