Clean label, natural, organic and local course

“Is it a clean label? “I only eat organic.” “Did you get this locally?” “What’s in there?” If you’re a foodservice operator, chef, dietician or server, you’ve probably heard questions like these from customers, students, parents, stakeholders and maybe even local media.

Underlying all terms and labels is the desire to eat healthily; to eat better. This goes for all ages, but studies show it’s especially true for Gen Z.

“I believe they primarily want their food to align with their values,” says Lisa Eberhart, a North Carolina-based consultant who, along with longtime colleague Randy Lait, founded the restaurant consultancy. Menu analysis after the two spent many years managing and shaping the award-winning restoration program at NC State.

HHS Chef Trula Hepner made this locally sourced grilled watermelon salad with fruit from a nearby farm and a spicy lime-mango dressing.

What does all this mean? Let’s ask an expert

We asked Eberhart what she thinks about the various terms surrounding the seemingly elusive quest to eat better. As a trained dietitian with a long history in the diet business, Eberhart has a great perspective to begin analyzing statics.

While many Gen Zers say they want Natural foods, “natural is a little misleading,” says Eberhart. “According to the USDA, “natural” meat or poultry cannot contain artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and must be minimally processed. It has nothing to do with how they were raised (outdoors, etc.) or if antibiotics or hormones were used. For foods other than meat and poultry, the label is meaningless.

  • clean label is an approach Eberhart likes because it’s “simple and understandable,” she says, “having so few ingredients and minimal multisyllabic words in the ingredient list makes sense to people.” We favor menu transparency, so the clean label approach lends itself to transparency. »
  • organic is a labeling term found on products made under a strict set of agricultural guidelines, and as many small farmers know, it is expensive to obtain this certification. “The cost of organic can be higher and it can be harder to source,” warns Eberhart. “Right now, with supply issues everywhere, could you get products more easily?”

Students eat these peppers from the farm school lunch box like candy at Spartanburg (SC) School District 6 / District Six Organic Farm & Nutrition Services.

Put words in menu action

A South Carolina school district has found a way around organic supply issues by running its own organic farm, and school and community stakeholders see real value in it. That district is Spartanburg (SC) School District 6/District Six Organic Farm & Nutrition Services, where menu items include a squash casserole that uses frozen summer squash year-round for a Southern classic, grass-fed beef tacos and the simple pleasures of “lunchbox peppers,” a colorful crop kids are taught to eat like candy (albeit dipped in ranch dressing).

While the organic label works there, others find it a bit confining, while still others see more value in emphasizing local foods.

“You should focus on eating foods that are minimally processed and sourced close to home,” says chef Michael Cleary, general manager of Bon Appetit Management Co. at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Bon Appetit is known for its homemade meals and Cleary is currently working on a fermentation project.

When Cleary was head of R&D for Whole Foods, he recalls a debate between Michael Pollan and the CEO of Whole Foods over whether organic food was better (Whole Foods review) or local (Pollan preaching). That was years ago, and it’s still debatable.

“My opinion on this is that organic products should not be considered a religion like kosher or halal,” he says. “Just for general dietary purposes, it shouldn’t be a religion. But if you want to make smart decisions, ask yourself where does it come from, how long has it been sitting, and how many ingredients does it contain? .

Common sense is Cleary’s driving force: “Some things are going to have pesticides or artificial colors in them,” he says, “but you’re not going to die if you eat that, maybe if that’s all that you ate… There is a level of hysteria.”


Spartanburg students feast on farm-grown sweet potatoes topped with toasted coconut.

Facilitate the local

The company-wide HHS Local Source initiative was recently created to help operators connect with their local farmers through a partnership with FreshPoint (a distributor of ProAct products) for large-scale orders to to add variety to menus, improve the quality of ingredients, add nutritional value, lower costs, showcase local farms and reduce carbon footprint.

According to HHS Chief Marta Hernandez, the initiative is already working like gangbusters and increasing plant-based options. “It’s a great tool, simplifying things where maybe there wasn’t before,” she says. “You go in and type in your zip code and designate a radius and it will find farms in your area.”

From there you can make signs for the service area (with a pre-made template) that proudly proclaims “Apples from Joe’s Orchard” with some information about Joe or maybe even handouts with an apple crisp recipe .

“On my salad bar, we have local lettuces and the mushrooms are absolutely gorgeous right now,” Hernandez says, adding that while it might be ideal to make dressing from scratch, in a care setting health which may not be an option,” so we’re going with clean label.

As a shorthand that encompasses different terms, HHS uses “better for you” on menus and signage, getting right to the root of that desire we mentioned earlier to simply eat better.

“As a business, we’re looking at all of our processes to see how best to minimize the damage we cause,” she adds. “It’s a business, so we consume a lot, but we try to be aware. I start with the end in mind when developing a recipe.

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