AUSTIN, TX — While ingredient openness is becoming gospel for so many food producers, one retail outlet is often deemed the pioneer of the clean label movement: Whole Foods. The health food giant that offers an organic option for nearly everything has a list of more than 230 ingredients — including hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin — banned from the products on its shelves. When it comes to developing a clean label product, earning a place in the aisles of Whole Foods’ serves as a golden ticket.

Two key categories that Whole Foods focuses on, both of which are particularly relevant to the baking industry, are preservatives and sweeteners. The grocer states on its website that preservatives undergo consideration on a case-by-case basis, “weighing the benefits and the drawbacks.”


The company allows things like citric acid and cultured dextrose but bans benzoates and three sorbate varieties: calcium, potassium and sodium, all common preservatives in baked goods. Without these elements, shelf life is shortened, so bakers have to figure out how to either go without preservatives and make a shorter shelf life profitable or replace them with clean label options.

According to a report from Allied Market Research, the natural food preservatives market is predicted to reach $1.07 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 3.7% from 2019 to 2026. The top contributors to the market included salt, an ancient and cost-efficient preservative, and citric acid, found naturally in citrus fruits and widely used as an acidifier in foods.

Even seaweed and other algae-derived ingredients have been popular contenders in the natural preservative market for their antibacterial and mold-inhibiting qualities.

The other category ripe for clean label innovation is sweeteners. Consumers are increasingly turning to natural sugars rather than chemical ones; in fact, Statista reported that by 2026, the natural sweetener market is projected to reach $28 million — up $5.5 billion from 2020. Popular options include stevia, monk fruit extract, agave, honey, tapioca syrup and brown rice syrup.


Riceworks, a clean label brand owned by the company Wholesome Goodness, is no stranger to clean sweeteners. The parent company has banned 158 additives and chemicals and uses only non-GMO ingredients. The brand makes savory rice chips and omega-3 bars, the latter of which brings a sweet taste without any added sugars like fructose. In general, if it ends in a “tose,” it doesn’t belong on a
Riceworks ingredient label.

“Not all sugars are created equal,” said Rick Letizia, Wholesome Goodness’ co-founder, president and COO. “We use natural sugars in our bars such as natural fruit. And now you have a new category [on the ingredient label] that says added sugars because you have naturally occurring sugar in items like a tomato or something. So now, you really have to look at what kind of ingredient is driving sugar content.”

Jennifer Halliburton, Corbion Global Bakery Insights senior manager, added that these kind of formulation challenges can be tough, but can also present opportunity.


“It can present some confusion, but it also allows bakeries to figure out what’s really going to be the most compatible with consumers in a purchasing event,” she said.

As clean label enjoys its time in the culinary limelight, all signs point to even more acceleration for the market. Emerging alternative ingredients that can help bakeries make cleaner products appear to be rolling out almost daily as baking companies increase their demand for clean, label-friendly ingredients.

“It’s a space that is going to continue to evolve,” Halliburton said. “It’s going to be important to consumers when they think about what they need from their food and food security.”

This story has been adapted from the February | Q1 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.