How Do Consumers Define Modern-Day Clean Label?

Posted September 27, 2023 by Alyssa Stahr

As a content director, I’m intrigued by changes in the food and beverage industry, down to the way language evolves to define innovation. Throughout the years at Brightly Creative, I’ve become familiar with terms like aquafaba, ashwagandha and what I affectionately call the biotics: pre, post and pro. But, there’s one industry term that has become synonymous with “ever-changing” both with consumers and product developers: clean label.

A recent webinar, “Trends and Innovations,” by my friends at Food Business News covered the term clean label, reporting on the ways this phrase has morphed over time and how it defines the way consumers read labels, think about food and ultimately purchase what goes into their bodies. 

Clean Label to Clean Conscience

Julie Johnson, president of HealthFocus International, said that clean eating in its simplest terms is consumption of whole foods. It’s not a diet, per se, but it’s an overarching belief system that foods should be eaten in purity. It traces back hundreds of years, down to the onset of black pepper in medieval times to the 1966 USDA mandate that ingredients lists must be included on products. Then in 1990, the USDA mandated that a standardized nutrition fact panel must be included on food products. 

Brands use the same ingredients list and transparency standard today, the two items being staples as to what we use to identify and assess products we buy. This mandate has brought consumers into a new world that allows them to make informed decisions about their product choices. It changed the buyer’s thought process forever: Clean label has morphed into clean conscience.

“It’s really the ingredient list that’s still very much a part of that clean label trend and even the clean conscience decision making trend, allowing consumers to make an assessment about the product quickly and easily to decide if it’s a true fit for them,” Johnson said. 

What Does ‘Clean’ Mean?

Desires and interests around consumer demands have become more holistic as of late, making clean label harder to define. However, Johnson narrowed the modern-time clean label phenomenon down to 7 key drivers. 


Concern over how a product is made, how it’s grown and where it’s sourced rose 11 points in a trend study from 2020 to 2022. 

Brand Story

Building a relationship between a brand and the consumer through storytelling is growing in importance. 

Food Science Done Right

Consumers want to know where ingredients are grown or processed, with pesticides in foods taking the top spot of concerns. 

Planet Health

Environmental claims show growth, from low environmental impact to environmentally-friendly packaging

Contribution to Society

Brand influence and what it does is becoming more necessary. 

Social Responsibility

Food and beverage choices are influenced by whether a company’s values align with the consumer’s.

The Clean Continuum

Modern day upcycling and reducing food waste is key with consumers.

How does your company define clean label? I would love to continue the conversation! Email me: to chat. 

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