Clean Label Project is a nonprofit organization that focuses on health and transparency for product labeling to help empower consumers. They submit products to their rigorous assessment process by testing for over 130 harmful environmental and industrial contaminants and toxins like arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, antibiotics, BPA/BPS and pesticides. They also analyze ingredient quality to identify America’s best-selling consumer products and publish those results as product ratings on their website.
Jackie Bowen, the executive director of Clean Label Project, told NutraIngredients-USA, “Consumers are increasingly concerned about what they put in and on their body and provide for themselves and their family. Media and academic reports drawing attention to issues like glyphosate residues in America's best-selling beer and wine, arsenic in America's best selling bottled waters, and lead in prenatal vitamins fuels consumer awareness of industrial and environmental contaminants in the supply chain. Clean Label Project certification serves to prove that these brands are going above and beyond what's required by federal law.”
Trust and transparency
Since 'clean' doesn't have a legal definition, the term is open for interpretation. For many, it’s the elimination of allergens and other ingredients. In some cases, it’s less about being simple, and more about transparency. In other situations, it might be sustainability or traceability. Either way, consumers are increasingly turning to clean products for safer options and to avoid adulterated ingredients.
Stephen Keim, US Sales Director, Better World Naturals, told NutraIngredients-USA it all comes down to trust. “We believe that consumer trust relies on the capability of all food chain stakeholders to provide tangible proof of their transparency. As an ingredient manufacturer, we believe that consumers who seek Clean Label Project certification are looking for brands which are transparent, brands into which they can trust. By participating in the CLP program we would like to be recognized as a supplier that wants to move this industry towards more transparency.”
Indeed, a new report by The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Chicago-based Label Insight found that over 80% of consumers say transparency is ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’ to them when both shopping online and in-store.
The survey also revealed that brands or manufacturers meets a consumer's definition of transparent if they provide a complete list of ingredients (62%); the description of ingredients is in ‘plain English’ (53%); include certifications such as USDA organic (48%); and provide detailed nutritional information (47%).
Supply chain integrity
Better World Naturals said the Clean Label Project Certification is testament to their approach to supply chain integrity. In addition to testing, the company also implemented a vertically integrated supply chain called PREVENT4TRUST. The goal is to prevent quality issues by proactively raising standards and mitigating threats from the field to the formulated ingredient. Their sourcing and supply chain model is a 4-step strategy aimed at preventing botanical adulteration and quality issues.
“Tests and certifications are an important guarantee of quality for our customers and consumers. Nevertheless, we believe testing alone cannot guarantee quality in the long term. Rather, at Better World Naturals we complement testing with traceability, working with farmers in the field to ensure consistent standards while shortening supply chains to improve quality control. The model benefits all stakeholders, with farmers getting guaranteed revenues and brands receiving consistently high quality ingredients,” said Laurent Zheng, Founder and General Manager of Better World Naturals.
As the first raw material supplier to get Clean Label Project-Certified, Keim told us he hopes other suppliers and manufacturers will follow suit. “We hope that more ingredient manufacturers will follow us and contribute to build trust among consumers, especially during this critical COVID-19 period.”
Controversy concerning the Clean Label Project
The Clean Label Project has not been without controversy, however. A report the group issued in 2018 that claimed to have found many problems with protein powders on the market was widely criticized because of a lack of transparency on its methodology and funding sources. Bowen said her group is funded by donations and by the sale of products on its site, a model which some industry observers, such as the National Products Association, has found problematical.
The report took many well known companies in the industry to task over things such as 'measurable' levels of lead in the protein powders. Andrea Wong, PhD, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, cautioned that finding trace levels of a contaminant like lead in a product does not mean the product represents a toxicity concern. She noted that the products cited in the Clean Label Project report met federal guidelines for lead levels.