Let’s Talk About Labeling

Food labels link you to your customers, and what they say about a product’s contents can sway people towards buying it or leaving it on the shelf. 54% of American shoppers1 say front-of-package food labels, including ingredient highlights and nutritional claims, impact their purchasing habits. Keep reading to discover the differences between ‘clean’, ‘organic’, and ‘natural’ food labels and navigating the term ‘natural’ flavors in this article.
The Differences Between Clean, Natural, and Organic Food Labels
The definition of clean labels is widely accepted in the food industry as consumer-friendly labels with fewer ingredients and simple wording that people can understand. The clean label trend helps shoppers feel more in control of the food they consume, and its most important goal is transparency. There is currently no regulation regarding clean labeling and switching to a clean label is relatively simple and inexpensive.
Using the word ‘natural’ on a food label is more complicated – while the FDA is yet to provide a formal definition for the term, they suggest natural food cannot contain anything artificial or synthetic, including all color additives2. Natural ingredients come from plants, animals, or micro-organisms, such as bacteria and fungi.
You must comply with strict regulations to label food, beverages, or ingredients as ‘organic’. Third-party certification bodies, such as the USDA or Ecocert, consider the sourcing and the food processing methods when awarding organic certification. To make processed, multi-ingredient foods 100% organic, you must include only organic-certified flavoring, fragrance, and preservatives.
Organic farming practices aim to conserve natural resources, preserve biodiversity, and protect animal welfare – they prohibit synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Products containing between 70 – 99% organic ingredients may only use the words ‘made with organic’ on the label and cannot bear the certified-organic seal.
What are ‘Natural Flavors’?
Research suggests that ‘natural flavors’ is the fourth most common ingredient listed on food labels3 – the term refers to a group of flavoring ingredients that add no nutritional value to foods or beverages. The FDA-approved sources for natural flavors include spices, fruit, vegetables, herbs, all plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermented plant and animal products4. The FDA also lists roasting, heating, or using enzymes as approved ways to extract natural flavors.
While natural flavorings must come from plant or animal sources, the FDA permits flavorists to use synthetic solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives during their production process without disclosing these processing aids on the final ingredient list. Commonly used ingredients for natural flavors include amyl acetate (banana), citral (citrus), benzaldehyde (almond), linden ether (honey), acetoin (butter), and massoia lactone (coconut).
Is Natural Flavor Healthier Than Artificial Flavor?
Both natural and artificial flavors add no nutritional value to food and beverages, and neither one holds any caloric value or health benefits. All flavorings must undergo testing before the FDA approves them as safe. Just because a flavoring is labeled, ‘natural’ does not make it healthier or superior to an artificial flavor. Flavorists often use artificial flavors to create more robust, unique flavor profiles.
Consumers value transparency when it comes to food labels – and choosing familiar ingredients, getting organic certification, or explaining your sourcing can help build trust with your customers. Advanced Biotech is a leading supplier of natural, certified-organic, and EU natural flavoring and fragrance ingredients for the food and beverage industry. Please contact us for more information.

1 https://foodinsight.org/ific-survey-fop-labeling/
2 https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/use-term-natural-food-labeling
3 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29140655/
4 https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=101.22