The confusing world of ‘clean label’ & ‘natural’ food products

Commonly used terms such as ‘clean label’ and ‘natural’ have led to confusion in the food industry, because of their different meanings to different people Food manufacturers think of ‘clean label’ and ‘natural’ as tools that allow them to list ingredients in a simplified and consumer appealing manner. Consumers on the other side do not differentiate between ‘clean label’ and ‘natural’ and perceive both as more wholesome, free of chemicals, nothing artificial, safe, no GMO, organic and sustainable. Consumers also trust that the ingredients listed as ‘natural’ are healthier than their synthetic counterparts. For regulators the trend towards using ‘clean label’ and ‘natural’ ingredients is concerning. It often means shorter ingredient lists, which may be misleading, and could be misconceived as safer food, which may not be the case.

USDA has attempted for nearly three years to tighten up its definition of ‘natural’. In the interim, labels used for ‘natural’ meat and poultry products require a review by USDA, which is a time-consuming process and can take in excess of six months. FDA has not come up with a formal definition for ‘natural’, even though an increasing number of class action suits have been filed recently against food manufacturers for their ‘all natural’ claims. A claim of ‘all natural’ has become higher risk to companies that market ‘all natural’ products. In November 2012, consumers in California will have the opportunity to vote on whether a claim of ‘natural’ can be prohibited for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. This time of confusion over the meaning of ‘clean label’ and ‘natural’ may also be an opportunity for the food industry to work with industry associations to come up with more descriptive and defined terms to generate clarity with ingredient listings.

If you are confused about ‘natural’, as you can see, you are not alone. At Kemin, we are here to help you navigate through the changing government requirements and provide up to date information on labeling of the ingredients we provide.  Please contact us with any questions you may have at

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