Does your ‘clean label’ marketing message hit the bull’s eye? Nova knows

‘Clean label’ is the antithesis of ultra processed food.

Jump back 30 years or more and food was all about taste and texture, ingredients panels were present, largely unread and certainly not understood. Not many knew, or cared whether packaged food was healthy.

Clean label is an off shoot of the ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ food trend where consumers actively seek healthier options. Increasingly in focus groups one hears ‘what’s in my food?’ and ‘where does it come from?’

Governments have spurred the trend with a focus on preventative health, and canny manufacturers are spying a revenue growth opportunity.

What contributes a clean label is harder to discern; there is no standard definition.

Nova seeks to change that, and it’s been adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The NOVA classification system groups all foods according to the nature, extent and purposes of the industrial processes they undergo. These involve physical, biological and chemical techniques used after foods are separated from nature, and before they are consumed or else made into dishes and meals.


In short there are 4 groups.

  • Unprocessed or minimally processed food, such as milk or an apple
  • Processed ingredients like oil or butter
  • Processed foods liked cured meats or packs of fruit
  • Ultra processed foods like sodas, confectionery or freeze dried noodles.

It’s not surprising that countries with highest per capita consumption of ultra processed foods like the US, Canada and Germany have some of the highest levels of obesity.

Nova isn’t simply about classifying foods into groups, it’s also about understanding the interaction between different food components during processing, as well as the introduction of xenobiotics, or additives. Want to learn more? This video is very helpful.

I like the NOVA classification for its simplicity. I can see more and more Governments adopting it and can see it’s an informative way to educate consumers about ‘clean label.’

Whether the mass market food industry will be as enthusiastic is another issue, many are still reeling from the anti sugar lobby’s blows.