My daughter is a Girl Scout, and one of her latest projects involved looking over the ingredients list of several snack items. When she came to an ingredient that she couldn’t recognize, she had to look it up and determine if it was healthy for you or not.

She got a bag of chips, and it wasn’t long before she came to an ingredient with way too many z’s and x’s in its name to be natural. So we looked it up online and read the definition… and I still didn’t know if it was healthy or not. Though it did give me flashbacks of struggling through my chemistry textbook in high school. We eventually determined that the mystery ingredient was a multi-syllabic, needlessly complicated name for “sugar.”

I’m definitely not what you would call a “crunchy” person — someone who only eats organic, sustainably grown, chemical-free, humanely raised food. I’m pretty sure the “Stuf” in a Double Stuf Oreo isn’t found in nature, and that’s fine by me. I know that even the most tongue-twisting ingredients in food play an important role or else they wouldn’t be used. However, it would be nice to be able to at least pronounce the things that I’m eating.

Consumers are reading ingredients lists now more than ever, and they are looking for things that actually sound like food and not science experiments. Is it a small portion of the consumer base? Undoubtedly. However, those consumers aren’t looking at the sale price to determine what they buy. They have enough disposable income that they are looking for healthy options and might be willing to pay a little extra for a food item with a “cleaner” label.

Processors should be regularly reviewing their packaging labels as a part of doing business. If you don’t, you may find yourself as the next company recalling large amounts of “misbranded” food products. As you do your review, though, check to see if there is anything you can do to make it easier to read, either by replacing an ingredient with something more natural or by adding a one- or two-word explanation of what an ingredient does. If you already have a clean label, make sure you promote that fact. Your customers will appreciate that they can enjoy the food that you’ve made without needing a dictionary.


Sam Gazdziak