Creating Clean Label Savory Snacks

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To clean up savory snack labels, food brands must explore these four opportunities along the reformulation path

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Consumers are reading ingredient labels and focusing on the makeup of foods and beverages—including snacks.
  • Our research shows consumers want clean label savory snacks that don’t contain MSG, maltodextrin or hydrogenated fat and are also low in sodium and sugar.
  • Also in demand are fortified snacks, such as chips and popcorn with added protein.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

The clean label movement marks an undeniable transformation of American consumers, with 82% of them saying clean label is important, according to Kerry’s clean label research, and almost as many willing to pay more for products made of ingredients that are perceived as being healthy, nutritious and sustainable. Despite a lag behind other categories such as bread and meat, clean label savory snacks are growing in favor among consumers.


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Traditionally, consumers have had lower expectations for clean label snacks. However, our research shows that now more than 50% of consumers want clean label ingredients in snacks. Brands are responding with an array of health-centric, functionally-nutritious clean label products. But reformulating such products can come with taste and quality challenges. To help snack brands make consumer-preferred clean label savory snacks, here's a simplified look that highlights opportunities along the reformulation path.

Looking toward a clean label snack future

As brands move toward using consumer-friendly ingredients and creating clean label snacks and other products, a typical response may include one or more of the following steps:

  • Removing no-no ingredients from a product and/or reducing the amount of other less desirable ingredients
  • Replacing ingredients with clean label alternatives and/or reducing the length of the ingredient list overall
  • Fortifying with clean label functional ingredients, such as protein or fiber

When a product is ready to launch it will often be repositioned to align with other clean label offerings and to stand out from traditional, less clean products, including through packaging and an updated product story.

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Removing and reducing unpopular ingredients

In proprietary clean label research around savory snacks, Kerry researchers found the top five ingredients consumers want eliminated are:

  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • hydrogenated fat
  • acids
  • maltodextrin
  • modified corn starch

The same research found that consumers generally perceive sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol as being unhealthy, and want to see reductions in these, too.

The perception of other ingredients tends to vary by generation. For example, almost 15% of millennials deem “natural flavors” as being unacceptable in savory snacks, a sentiment shared by less than 5% of boomers. As the industry continues to evolve, understanding exactly what a product’s target consumer wants is critical to a brand’s success.

Replacing with healthy and clean label ingredients

Gaps are often left when “no-no” ingredients are removed. Because many such ingredients influence a snack’s taste, color, texture or shelf life, there’s a prevailing need for clean label ingredients that deliver these functions.

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For example, when MSG or sodium are removed, a product might be reformulated with a taste modulation solution that delivers a salty taste with a reduced salt content. Or, when artificial coloring is removed, it might be replaced with a natural ingredient known for its vibrant color, such as turmeric. Because shortened ingredient lists are a part of clean label, food scientists pay may focus on getting the most functionality out of single or integrated ingredient, such as fermented ingredients, which can add flavor and shelf life to a product.

Fortifying with functional ingredients

Consumers also want functional nutrients such as protein, fiber and vitamins in their snacks. Protein, specifically, is on the rise–almost half of consumers review protein content on a nutritional facts panel and high- or added-protein claims on new products have grown by 48% since 2015. Meat snacks are the largest segment of the salty snacks category and also the fastest growing, according to Mintel’s 2018 Salty Snacks Report, but protein can be a unique, differentiating benefit in product categories that aren’t traditionally associated with high protein.

For example, snacks like popcorn and chips with extra protein could be a better-for-you snacking option for vegetarians, vegans and other consumers not interested in meat snacks. Popcorn, especially, is an area of opportunity, since it is already perceived as being healthy. Because adding protein can come with taste challenges, it’s important to work with a supplier that can help address such issues.

Kerry has a history of success when working with brands to create clean label foods and beverages. To learn more about our work in cleaning up snack labels, collecting consumer insights and working with clean label preservation, contact us.

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