KANSAS CITY, MO -- According to Research and Markets, the global clean label ingredients market is expected to be valued at $51.14 billion by 2024 in order to meet growing consumer demand for clean label food and consumer packaged goods.

But what does clean label mean? What should dairy brands set as the target for a “clean label?”

At its most basic level, clean label refers to food products that have fewer, simpler ingredients. It implies more than processors being honest about what’s in their products; it means moving away from highly processed ingredients and toward ingredients from natural sources that are easy to recognize, understand and pronounce, with no artificial additives or synthetic chemicals. In simple terms, ingredients that consumers recognize as wholesome.

At a minimum, a clean label dairy product is free from artificial ingredients, including artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

Dairy is traditionally known for its healthy nutrition label, which typically includes good amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Clean label information can also be conveyed through front-of-package claims, such as organic or all-natural.

Today, according to Dupont Nutrition and Biosciences, even mainstream consumers are demanding cleaner labels. In the dairy space, clean label means ingredients that are familiar, healthy, and responsible. But consumers do not want to skimp on taste. They want good-for-you-products that are flavorful, and sometimes, indulgent.


Lindsey Meuser, category manager, Spreads, Tillamook County Creamery Association, said market trends have been shifting toward clean label for some time now, but COVID-19 has given consumers more time to reflect on the health choices they’re making.

“Clean label for Tillamook means delivering high-quality ingredients that our consumers can feel good about feeding to their families, and providing them with that choice when others might not exist in the market,” Meuser said.

In early 2020, Tillamook entered the cream cheese category with Tillamook Farmstyle Cream Cheese Spreads. Like all Tillamook products, Meuser said, they’re made with rBST-free milk and high-quality ingredients.

“Unlike many cream cheese spreads competitors, Tillamook Cream Cheese Spreads contain no gums, fillers or preservatives,” she said. “These cream cheese spreads are available in five bold flavors – Original, Seriously Strawberry, Very Veggie, the world’s first Aged Cheddar and Chive and Onion, which is new to shelves in 2021.We’re also continuing to work on new, innovative flavors for the future.”

Meuser said the Tillamook, Ore.-based cooperative gets ahead of emerging trends, especially when it comes to health and nutrition, by working hard to maintain a connection with its consumers.

“We are always eager to listen and learn from consumers as it relates to the health and nutrition trends that are most important to them,” she said.


Madeleine Coggins, trade marketing manager for Sonoma, Calif.-based St. Benoit Creamery, said clean label, better-for-you dairy, has trended upwards throughout COVID-19 and into 2021. 

“As consumers have increased their cooking and baking habits at home, and are increasingly concerned with immune health, the demand for organic and clean label options has grown,” she said. “For St. Benoit Creamery, clean label is a natural extension of our goal to make Real Food, Real Good. Real food means clean, natural, organic ingredients like our organic, pasture-raised, animal welfare-certified A2 Jersey cow milk from a single dairy only 26 miles from our sustainable creamery. We believe real food makes you feel good, and benefits our local community and terroir.”

The company’s most recent innovation is its line of organic pot de crème desserts. 

“Our desserts are the ideal choice for consumers seeking a healthy but indulgent clean label, limited-ingredient dairy dessert. Free of starches, milk powders, fillers, stabilizers and preservatives, and lower in calories than similar desserts, St. Benoit Creamery Organic Desserts contain only organic full-fat milk, cream, eggs, sugar and real flavors like organic vanilla and local TCHO artisan chocolate,” Coggins said. “St. Benoit Creamery Organic Desserts are an inspired union of the classic French dessert pot de crème and California’s culture of fresh, healthy food. Our innovation focuses on local, clean ingredients that further elevate our delicious milk.”

St. Benoit Creamery also puts a great emphasis on listening to what is most important to its consumers.

“We listen to our consumers,” Coggins said. “We read every email, social media post, and listen to every phone call. We ask our consumers directly about their preferences through surveys and invite them to share their ideas, to ensure we understand their needs and preferences. And we actively listen to industry trends and reports inside and outside of our category to help think through potential new innovations. Our small office team of local foodies closely follow health and wellness trends as well, and often inspire new ideas.”

Coggins said clean label implies so much more to consumers than just clean ingredients. 

“It’s a reflection of a brand’s transparency, simplicity, and commitment to wholesome natural food,” she said. “By keeping to a clean label, you’re helping consumers make educated decisions about what they purchase.” 


La Farge, Wis.-based Organic Valley continues to strive to bring the best food and beverages to market, said Laura McBride, director of innovation.

“Our standards in animal welfare, sustainability, and ingredient selection are generally above USDA organic requirements,” she said. “An organic outcome (pun intended) of that is having clean labels by the nature of our mission. For decades, our labels have contained pronounceable and commonly fewer ingredients. Numerous CPG manufacturers that have made pledges in support of clean labels, so the market will continue to trend upward.” 

McBride said the cooperative is particularly excited about the launch of its new Organic Valley Egg Bites.

“Our customers, especially parents, were looking for a simple, healthy snack that uses our quality organic ingredients — this includes organic free-range eggs from the cooperative’s small family farms, along with Organic Valley cheese and Organic Prairie meat,” she said.    

In terms of getting ahead of emerging trends in the market, McBride said she collaborates and partners with thought leaders across industries, including dairy, to understand what keeps them up at night and share similar from her perspective. 

“In addition, I meet with dietitians, doctors, and other health professionals to keep a pulse on issues, concerns, and bright spots for their patients,” McBride said. “I also partner with research leaders like the Hartman Group and Mintel to help me keep a pulse on trends in the US and abroad.”

During the pandemic, McBride said it was wonderful to see many folks return to dairy.

“I love the promise and possibility of continuing to keep them coming back to dairy for its outstanding nutrition, delicious taste and sheer enjoyment,” she said.


Despite the fact that clean label does not have a specific definition, the percentage of consumers who say they are familiar with clean label, and that it is important to them continues to grow, transitioning it from a trend to a must-have for food manufacturers.

To that end, COVID-19 has accelerated interest in diet and health, making it more important for shoppers to be able to recognize the ingredients on food packaging, said Jennifer Yunt, brand manager, Señor Rico Desserts, Lakeview Farms.

“Before the Pandemic, Señor Rico had already begun reformulating all rice pudding and flan recipes to clean label formulas by removing or replacing all artificial flavors, colors and preservatives with natural options,” she said. “We took our time in doing this so that we could test the new recipes with regular users to be sure we could deliver the same fresh, homemade taste consumers expect.”

Yunt said consumers want to incorporate more plant-based foods in their diets, but they want them to have the taste and texture they know and like. Enter Señor Rico Horchata Pudding. It is a plant-based pudding with the same smooth thickness of a traditional pudding, naturally flavored with vanilla and cinnamon for a creamy taste of warm spice. It is also a dairy-free alternative for snacking or dessert.

“Consumers are looking for new flavors and textures in dessert and snacking; so we paired the highest- ranked indulgent flavors with our traditional rice pudding for a unique taste of something they already know and love,” Yunt said. “All three new flavors of rice pudding — Dulce de Leche, Chocolate Hazelnut and Mango  — all add a layer of indulgence to the fresh homemade taste of cream and vanilla.”

Because trends come and go, Yunt said, the Delphos, Ohio-based company uses multiple trusted industry sources for a holistic approach to data and trend information.

“We use this to develop insights concerning the category and the Señor Rico brand, and then weigh the relevance to the brand positioning and objectives to determine what we should consider for product changes or innovation,” she said.

While there is continued growth in plant-based milk and cream products, there is also an emerging trend for foods with functional benefits (i.e., immunity, probiotic, mood, aiding sleep), Yunt said.

“This could bode well for dairy products as a way to highlight benefits that are naturally present based on current research indicating the benefit of dairy in aiding sleep.”

This story is featured in the June 2021 issue of Dairy Processing.