Plant-Based Trend: Zoom in on Clean Labels

With the health and wellness trend continuing to grow across the food sector, it’s no question that people are looking more closely at what’s in the products they buy.

by Bella Ali-Khan | Plant-Based | 6 October 2021

Regardless of why consumers are driven to plant-based products, the two expectations of taste and texture are vital for success. No one wants a burger that tastes like cardboard, or falls apart into clumps of chickpeas. 

What many don’t realise is that to satisfy these expectations, products have to be more processed and contain added ingredients, in order to mimic the familiar flavours of meat and dairy. Confusion surrounds many consumers who have formed the perception that plant-based always equates to healthy eating. A recent study showed that nearly 40% of Brits believed plant-based foods only contain natural ingredients1

From this misunderstanding, a third expectation is emerging from the category – a ‘clean label’ – in response to the growing conversation about transparency of ingredients, nutritional value and the disparity of processed food and food being over-processed2

But what exactly is a clean label? Ironically, there is not much clarity around the issue. Essentially, it’s a marketing term, not a legal term. A product with a clean label is perceived by consumers as a product that contains as few ingredients as possible, and those ingredients are easily recognisable – a definition that is now widely accepted by the food industry, and even regulatory agencies.  

But this definition has become tangled up with other terminology in the global wellness phenomenon: Fairtrade, a low carbon footprint, and obviously, organic. All these concepts give consumers the ‘clean feels’ – so, in a way, this is as much about perception as it is about actual ingredients.  

However, when it comes to product labelling, there are some ingredients that are generally perceived to be ‘unclean’, and therefore a definite no-no, according to founder of Froghop, Melanie Loades3

Keeping it simple 

The key is to keep it simple, but there are challenges. Some government regulations, for example, require scientific names to be included on an ingredients list, which may in some cases be regarded negatively: Tocopherol, anyoneAscorbic acid? Commonly known as vitamins E and C, they hold huge nutritional value and are generally widely recognised, when using their common names. But not every shopper has a science degree. 

Clean labels cater for those consumers who want to trust their chosen purchases, and so choose brands that provide clear information, confirming they are making a healthy and wholesome choice.  

Globally the clean-label ingredient market is expected to value USD 47.50 billion by 20234, a huge opportunity for plant-based brands. Whether you are just breaking out, or are an existing brand, it’s a trend to build in to your brand’s genetic make-up. Consumers don’t want to choose between what’s good for them, versus what’s good for the planet – they want both. 

To read about other trends influencing the success of the plant-based category, read our full report here.  


1 – Gosh! Study 

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