Clean label trend picks up speed

papa johns clean label

With more consumers expressing an interest in “free-from” foods and wanting to know the origin of their next meal, operators across segments are taking a more transparent approach to menu creation.

Here’s a peek at the chains jumping on the clean label trend.


Many credit Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” message with getting the ball rolling, and other chain operators gradually have followed suit, scrutinizing their suppliers and the elements of each dish while striving to serve foods that align with a clean eating philosophy.

Noodles & Company

Noodles & Company removed artificial ingredients gradually, first from its soups, sauces and dressings, next from noodles and bread items. The chain promoted the switch in a marketing campaign with the hook “Made. Different.” With an emphasis on real foods, cooking and flavors, the strategy is designed to capture business from millennials, who show a stronger preference for organics and additive-free dining.

Papa John’s

Several pizza chains have made cleaner menus a priority in the last few years. Papa John’s recently removed all artificial flavors and synthetic colors from all its U.S. units, and late last year, the chain introduced antibiotic-free chicken.

The chain’s corporate R&D reportedly worked for approximately two years with a sauce supplier to simplify the recipe and jettison the flavor enhancer MSG. Finding a preservative-free pepperoni source was a challenge as well. Ultimately, Papa John’s spread the word about its efforts with the now well-known “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” slogan, accompanied by a pizza paddle-shaped graphic listing the ingredients that had been removed.

Jason’s Deli

Jason’s Deli, fueled by an owner’s personal commitment to healthier eating, purged its menu of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and artificial colors. The company also partners with the MD Anderson Center to develop healthy, under-500-calorie LTOs; the latest is the Salmon Pacifica Salad, made with wild-caught Alaska sockeye salmon, piquillo peppers, pickled red onions, organic field greens, fresh avocado and a cucumber-dill vinaigrette.

Among the chain’s biggest sellers are its salad bar, which includes several organic items, and choices on its gluten-sensitive menu, which includes antibiotic-free chicken nuggets. An interactive “special diets wizard” on the company’s website allows diners to determine what dishes mesh with their dietary preferences or restrictions.


One of the latest entrants to the clean-eating arena is Fazoli’s. The chain recently announced its menu would be free of all artificial sweeteners, flavors, preservatives and colors by mid-June 2017. Fazoli’s launched its “Naturally Italian” initiative more than a year ago and spent that time working with about 50 suppliers to systematically remove more than 80 additives from food on the menu. Sodium benzoate, calcium propionate and nitrates were eliminated from proteins, salad dressings and breadsticks; iced tea will be made with pure cane sugar.

Taco Bell

One of the first quick-service brands to voluntarily disclose ingredient, nutrition and allergen information, Taco Bell has continued that momentum by sourcing cage-free eggs and menuing ingredients with natural colors and flavors as well as antibiotic-free chicken. The company website also offers an interactive calculator that allows patrons to customize their favorite dishes and decide whether that extra sour cream is worth the calories.

As the actions of these brands show, consumer interest in clean eating keeps growing—and so does the opportunity for operators who innovate in this space.

This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice


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