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Defining clean label
Q: What does clean label mean to the dietary supplement industry and to consumers?
A: Steve Peirce, Ribus, says:
imageConsumer demand and global trends greatly impact the dietary supplement industry. Consumers are inundated with marketing information from brands but are increasingly looking beyond marketing and demanding transparency. Savvy consumers have made the connection between food as nutrition and dietary supplements as nutrition and desire the same clean labels for dietary supplements that they have for food. Consumers simply want to understand if a product is pure, and this knowledge is motivating their purchasing habits.
The clean label movement developed out of this increasing demand from dietary supplement consumers for pronounceable ingredients and alternatives to synthetic materials and has prompted manufacturers to create new products or reformulate existing ones to meet the rising demand. However, like the term natural, the term clean label is still undefined globally.
Leaders within the dietary supplement industry have joined forces to create the Clean Label Alliance to help manufacturers navigate this important aspect of the ever-changing dietary supplement landscape and define clean label based on industry expertise and skilled observations. In its simplest form, clean label requires supplement manufacturers to address three basic questions:
  1. Can the consumer pronounce the names of the ingredients or excipients?
  2. Does the consumer know where the ingredients came from?
  3. Does the label make the consumer feel good about using the supplement?
imageThe Clean Label Alliance sees the term as an umbrella (Figure 1), not only for the development of regulations but also for the terminology that manufacturers and consumers use related to supplements. The alliance suggests that the term embodies:
  1. All certifications that consumers seek today, such as gluten-free, non-GMO project verified, vegan, and organic;
  2. Any applicable statements, such as Hallal and vegetarian, which document compliance without specific certification; and
  3. Any other terms used, such as natural or free-from.
Together with the certifying bodies that helped shape the clean label definition, the alliance believes that consumers now expect sustainability—the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources through the production process—and transparency. Knowing the sources of a product's excipients can help consumers avoid purchasing supplements from companies that use harmful practices in their manufacturing processes.
The clean label showcases the process and path the manufacturer followed to create the finished product. The clean label also replaces terms for excipients from the chemistry lab, such as magnesium stearate, with more easily understood terms for equivalents, such as a rice extract blend, while the ingredients provide the same functionality and quality. The provided information can help consumers feel comfortable deciding between products and allows them to feel that they're part of a global movement transforming the dietary supplement industry for future generations.
However, as dietary supplement manufacturers transition to clean labels, some are experiencing production challenges. Often, companies are used to working with ingredients that have traditional chemical names, which often handle and process differently than the alternatives, and need help making the ingredients work with their processing equipment. Supplement manufacturers seeking to develop or transition to clean labels can receive free and confidential consultations, recommendations, and technical support from industry leaders with experience and viable resources by submitting projects and questions to the Clean Label Alliance.
Alliance members
Biogrund. Biogrund provides color-coating systems for the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industry. Biogrund and its affiliates operate in four countries, and the company started its operations in Sterling, VA, in 2014 to better serve the US market. Biogrund has developed clean-label products using natural and organic ingredients, and its manufacturing plants have high-level GMP certifications and are organically certified.
Bosch. Bosch Packaging Technology supplies single machines, combined systems, complete solutions, and consulting services for the packaging of food and pharmaceuticals. For the pharmaceutical industry, the company's portfolio ranges from machines for filling sterile, liquid, and powdered pharmaceuticals through inspection technology to tablet presses and track-and-trace systems.
Lonza. Lonza offers expertise in high-quality, science-backed ingredients with formulation know-how and capsule and encapsulation technologies to create solutions for consumer health and nutrition companies. The company's deep clinical knowledge supports specialty ingredients with proven performance, enabling customers to address consumer health concerns via new, differentiated health products.
Natoli Engineering. Natoli Engineering supplies tablet press tooling as well as tablet presses and R&D and production software. The company also provides tooling and tablet design services, tablet press refurbishment, formulation testing and analysis, and technical training. Natoli serves the pharmaceutical, veterinary, nutritional, and confectionery industries in major markets around the world.
Ribus. Ribus supplies natural and organic, rice-based ingredients to companies around the world. As the original clean-label ingredient company, Ribus produces non-GMO, natural, organic, vegan, and gluten-free ingredients for the food, beverage, pet, and dietary supplement sectors. Its patented technology and ingredients can help solve production issues while providing clean labels for a wide variety of products.

Steve Peirce is president of Ribus, St. Louis, MO.
October 28, 2019
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