The ‘Clean Label’ Trend and the Impact on Commercial Kitchen Equipment

As consumers look for healthier, less-processed fare, fast casual and quick-service chains are updating menus and eliminating ingredients, such as artificial flavors and preservatives.

In 2016, several restaurant chains announced related changes:

By the end of 2016, Panera will remove all artificial preservatives, flavors or sweeteners and colors from artificial sources in its food.

Pizza Hut presented a timeline for updates to its ingredients, including eliminating use of preservatives in cheese by the end of March 2017.

In August, McDonald’s announced that it would be removing artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets.

When a quick-service leader like McDonald’s makes a change, the whole industry pays attention, and we can anticipate similar announcements from other foodservice corporations.

As these chains are adapting their menus to this trend, what role does kitchen equipment play?

Changing the chemical make-up of the food item may require changes to the way it is prepared. Some methods, such as steaming, are usually not impacted by ingredient changes, but other cooking techniques are.

For example, hamburger buns with natural sugar will generally toast darker than those that contain high-fructose corn syrup, due to the increased caramelization that occurs. Operators will need to modify the toast time to meet the same specifications.

From a holding standpoint, removing preservatives from a product does reduce the length of time it can be held while still maintaining a standard level of quality.

To address this issue, operators are seeking alternative holding technologies or looking for ways to reduce the hold time of the fully cooked item — such as par-cooking and holding, then finishing to order.

As operators review their equipment needs and the ability to meet the clean label trend, they should consider how the food’s ingredients, or the removal of certain ingredients, may impact the cook time or method. Versatile equipment that accommodates these needs can help reduce waste while maintaining product quality.

See how Antunes meets another trend — the expanding breakfast daypart — in this article.