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Demand for Food Transparency is Growing, and Fast

Wild Blueberries can deliver on the trend.

Editorial consulting by the Culinary Institute of America

Clean label product development and innovation is a growing practice area for CIA Consulting. While there is still no formal definition from the government, consumers don’t seem to mind creating their own. That’s how hot the topic has become.

Marketers and manufacturers tend to agree that the public is looking for foods that meet these three criteria: additive-free, minimally processed, and containing recognizable ingredients. Even foods with natural or organic ingredients can fail to pass all three tests. Tasked with going to the grocery store to bring home “Organic Macaroni and Cheese,” I found products with organic sodium phosphate, organic annatto seed extract, organic corn starch, and organic yeast extract. Sure, all of these things were organic but I did not want them in my mac and cheese. They fall into the category of what trend guru Dr. Liz Sloan calls “good because I said so.” I wound up going home with a box of elbows and some organic milk and cheddar cheese and I made my own (as any good chef should have in the first place).

One can also add transparency and speed of information to the list of food trends the public is seeking. In the college and university segment, where tomorrow’s consumers are learning about food today, you will see an increased level of ingredient disclosure of menu items. Many campus dining offices are now using apps to provide nutrition information, allergen information, and ingredient listings for all prepared foods that are served. This is a major paradigm shift in how food information is shared with consumers. As these students graduate and become consumers, there will be even greater demand for this kind of information in restaurants, corporate dining rooms, and retail establishments.

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Recently at the CIA, we worked with a dried cranberry producer wanting to make fruit and nut blends with its product. A big guardrail on that project was the exclusive use of clean label products (no sulfites, phosphates, HFCs, etc). Not an easy task, because many dried fruits are treated with these additives to keep them tender once dried. Still another project involved working with a commercial manufacturer trying to make a clean label line of sauces that included only stock, vegetables, and roux for thickening. Their biggest challenge was finding good quality clean label tomato paste to use as an ingredient in their sauces.

Clean label extends beyond discussions of sustainability (still important), wellness (ditto), and localism (important but not always practical). If anything, it has come to represent an intersection of all three, and the fewer ingredients the better. In frozen or dried form, Wild Blueberries are as clean as it gets.

In the case of Wild Blueberries, the expression ‘less is more’ really applies. Few ingredients can lend to flavor and nutritional boost all by themselves. Wild Blueberries convey piquancy, sweetness, texture, and nutrient density in everything from barbecue sauce to granola bars while reducing reliance on other ingredients. As a wild-harvested ingredient, they also convey a sense of place and terroir, stemming from their hardy upbringing on the desolate glacial barrens of Maine and Northeastern Canada.

Pretty good for such a tiny package.

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About the Author 

Chef David Kamen, PCIII, MBA

Project Manager, CIA Consulting

Chef David Kamen has enjoyed a diverse career in the culinary world. He served as executive chef of St. Andrew’s Café, one of five award-winning public restaurants on the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park campus. He’s also been professor of culinary arts at CIA, where he taught everything from culinary skills development, to seafood and meat identification and fabrication, to breakfast cookery. Today, Chef Kamen is a project manager for CIA Consulting, where he is responsible for planning and managing custom projects for professional foodservice operations. A certified hospitality educator, Kamen earned dual certification from the CIA and the American Culinary Federation as a ProChef Level III (PCIII) and Certified Executive Chef (CEC).  He also holds a B.A. and M.A. in Business Administration from Empire State College.