With the consumer shift to clean label products, beverage brands can utilize consumer-friendly preservation ingredients to stand out
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KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- Clean label beverage preservation is gaining interest among consumers who are wary of synthetic preservatives.
- While some processing methods deliver additive-free preservation, they may present sustainability challenges, making them less attractive options.
- Consumer-friendly beverage preservation ingredients—including kitchen cupboard items—can help brands deliver delicious, natural products with a longer shelf life.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:
In our Future of Food clean label research, 74% of North American consumers stated they frequently read the product label when purchasing food and beverages. As people continue to seek out recognizable ingredients, brands will seek to replace artificial ingredients with natural ingredients when possible, including for preservation.
In this article, I share what I’m seeing in beverage preservation in my role as Global Senior Strategic Marketing Manager for Food Protection & Preservation, including common challenges and innovative solutions.
Understanding the need for beverage preservation
Keeping a beverage safe over its shelf life is multifaceted, but all commercially distributed beverages generally need a preservation mechanism to protect the product from spoilage and pathogens and to shield it from taste degradation in order to deliver a tasty, nutritious, appealing and enjoyable product. Beverage formulators can achieve preservation through the use of preservation ingredients or through processing methods.
Synthetic ingredients for preservation
Inherently, beverages contain nutrients and vitamins that can create an environment where microorganisms like to grow, meaning that they can spoil quickly if not protected. Many common household beverages traditionally use synthetic preservation to extend their shelf-life, including carbonated soft drinks, low-juice containing beverages, flavored waters and electrolyte drinks.
The most common traditional synthetic preservatives you will find on a label are sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. These ingredients protect beverages by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms, but are viewed negatively by some consumers according to our Future of Food research.
Adding to the challenge of beverage preservation is the strong consumer desire to reduce sugar. This is considered good for public health but removing sugar can adversely impact a beverage’s shelf life as well as taste, because sugar naturally acts as a preservative by lowering the water activity within the beverage.
Preservatives don’t work alone to prevent microorganisms from growing. Some production processes leverage temperature or pressure to stop growth. The combination of certain physicochemical characteristics (like pH, water activity and brix) can also play an important part in determining whether microorganisms can grow.
Processes such as high-pressure processing and thermal processing can be used to control microbial growth without the addition of synthetic preservative ingredients, but may complicate packaging, raw material costs and supply chain flexibility. For example, these processes are often energy and water intensive and can demand stronger packaging—and often more plastic—creating sustainability challenges.
Using consumer-friendly ingredients to protect and perfect beverages
According to 2020 Innova data, 23% of new global beverage launches have a no additives/preservatives claim. Still, the market has few consumer-friendly preservation solutions that successfully protect beverage taste and extend shelf life.
If you do not see preservatives on the label of a beverage, it likely has:
- A short shelf life before it will spoil; or
- Been preserved using heat or pressure, meaning it will be protected until opened then will have a short shelf life; or
- Been protected using consumer-friendly ingredients
Although maintaining a consumer-friendly label can be a challenge, there are natural ways to keep food fresh, safe and appealing using food cupboard solutions to protect product quality over shelf life.Some ingredients, such as lemon juice and vinegar, have long been used in consumers’ own homes to protect and enhance the flavor of fruit and vegetables. These can also be used at scale in beverages and other food products.
Because consumers are already looking for all-natural ingredients on beverage labels, such as real juice, natural flavors, naturally-sourced colors and recognizable ingredient sources, consumer-friendly preservation ingredients translate well onto clean labels. Our portfolio of consumer-friendly preservation ingredients brings together the best of two worlds with expertise in preservation and innovation in food protection across fermentates, vinegar, cultures, plant extracts and flavor systems. These can lock in great taste while unlocking lasting shelf life in beverage without adding processing steps or synthetic preservatives.