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An Introduction to Flavor Labeling: Part 1

August 26, 2015

Natural. Artificial. Non-GMO. Organic. Type. WONF. These terms, and many others, are loaded with meaning. In the minds of consumers, they might be loosely defined or not understood at all. For today’s food manufacturers, they require specific understanding in order to comply with changing regulatory guidelines. And make no mistake—in the many conversations we’ve had with customers over the past few months, few topics are as buzzworthy as labeling requirements. Whether you’re in R&D, purchasing or marketing, it’s vital to know how the ingredients in your product not only work in the application, but how they affect the product labels consumers and regulatory groups will both closely examine.

With years of expertise in international and domestic regulatory issues in the food industry, we’re often asked to help our customers stay on top of changes and ensure our products—and others—are accurately labeled within their ingredient statements. In this, the first article in our three-part regulatory series, we’ll break down common flavor labeling terminology, providing an easy guide to how flavors can be named on your product labels.

Here are concise descriptions of the differences between some key flavor labeling terms, all using the example of flavor products that taste like Cheddar:

  • A flavor labeled Natural Cheddar Flavor must consist only of natural flavor ingredients derived entirely from real Cheddar cheese, such as oils, extracts or chemical compounds
  • To be labeled Natural Cheddar WONF (With Other Natural Flavors), a flavor must contain entirely natural flavor ingredients, but these can be derived from Cheddar as well as other natural flavoring materials, such as compounds derived from Mozzarella or Parmesan, or even from natural Butter or Milk
  • The term “Type” is introduced when the flavor is derived from natural ingredients other than the named product. So Natural Cheddar Type Flavor tastes like Cheddar, but could be made entirely from derivatives of some other natural source (again, Mozzarella and Parmesan are good examples, but it could be any other natural ingredient)
  • Artificial Cheddar Flavor gets its name from using artificial “Cheddar” compounds in combination with other synthetic ingredients; it could include natural flavor from a source other than Cheddar, but the fact that it contains synthetic “Cheddar” ingredients means it gets the “Artificial” label
  • Finally, Natural and Artificial Cheddar Flavor is made from a combination of some natural Cheddar or Cheddar derivatives (or other flavoring ingredients from natural sources), plus artificial ingredients

Here’s an easy “cheat sheet” showing the differences in terminology

Of course, we know that today’s consumers are getting savvier about reading labels and scrutinizing what’s in their food. And regulatory requirements continue to evolve in conjunction with that trend. We’ve only just scratched the surface of the considerations involved in flavor labeling, but establishing a common vocabulary, in compliance with regulations, means we can have even more productive conversations with our customers about which flavor will best meet their product development goals … goals that are increasingly driven not just by the application itself, but also by specific desires around what goes on the label.

Next time: Learn about some of the key questions food product developers should ask themselves—and their teams—when making decisions that affect product labeling.