Food Labeling Workshop: Speaker Interview


Kathleen Crossman
Vice President, Regulatory
FONA International Inc.


Kathleen will be one of the distinguished speakers at the Food Labeling: Evolving Regulatory Compliance Workshop Intensive on April 17th in Chicago, IL. The one day workshop will include case studies, panel discussions, and networking opportunities with industry professionals. Kathleen will be speaking on a panel about achieving clean label status and meeting consumer trends and demands.

When did you realize that your customers wanted clean labels?

Our customers are Consumer Product Companies. While the CPCs were not initially using the term “clean” they have been asking for flavors that are “natural,” “organic,”  “gluten-free,” “non GM”  or “free from” something for the last 10 years or so. A few years ago, FONA commissioned a “clean team” to keep a pulse on the market and to provide tools and ingredients that help us respond quickly to our customers’ needs. We have seen huge increases in demand for organic, non GM, natural flavors.  We have also seen increasing demand for pantry-friendly labels that provide terms consumers understand, like vanilla extract, orange oil, etc.

How has FONA worked to achieve clean label status?

At FONA, we believe clean label is truly a continuum – not a simple checkbox. FONA works to meet our customer’s market demands.  As these are varied along the “clean continuum,” we need to be able to provide solutions that work for everybody’s definition. That doesn’t mean there aren’t specific parameters that support clean claims. One example is artificial vs natural flavor. Most consumers would not consider artificial flavor as a clean ingredient.

What is your biggest piece of advice for new adopters of clean labels?

As each CPC enters into the clean label space, it’s important to define just what that means to your brand, and to your company. What claims are you targeting? Gluten-free, shorter ingredient statements, etc.? Then, how will you leverage that position with your consumers? Clean can mean many things — and consumers respond best when it’s in line with their expectations for your brand. What’s important to know is that taste is king. Consumers will purchase products that taste great and meet their needs.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the industry right now?

Building trust between brands and consumers is incredibly important. Defining the claims you make, because clean means many different things to many people. No matter what, it’s essential that claims are truthful and not misleading.  Some types of claims can erode trust.   Would a claim like “hormone-free lettuce” really help consumers or does it just muddy the waters? Isn’t all lettuce hormone free?   In contrast, non-GM soy products might be something that rings true for your consumers.

The Food Labeling Workshop is only a few weeks away! What are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to meeting my colleagues across the food industry and learning about how they are addressing these challenges.