CuliNEX pioneers clean label food revolution, driving healthier eating trends

Demands for healthier food products and transparent sourcing are key “big picture” trends impacting the packaged food landscape, according to CEO of the clean label product development firm.

Rachel French, Contributing writer

May 1, 2024

3 Min Read
clean ingredients

At a Glance

  • CuliNEX was founded in 2005 specifically to focus on clean label food development.
  • Consumer trends toward healthier eating, transparency and authenticity are driving the demand for clean label foods.
  • CuliNEX CEO Mark Crowell believes creating healthy food options is not just good business but also the right thing to do.

This profile is part of a special new Food & Beverage Insider series, #innovationnation. Look for more great features like this in the coming months.

Mark Crowell, CRC, founder and CEO of CuliNEX, started the clean label food product development firm, in 2005 — a handful of years before “clean label” went mainstream.

“At the time, we called it organic and natural product development,” he said. “When [the clean label] term came into widespread use around 2011, we adopted clean label as an overarching theme for what we did.”

Twenty years later, CuliNEX continues its focus on clean label food product development, driven by what Crowell described as the “right thing” and the “necessary thing” to do.

“Many, many people are suffering from not taking care of themselves and not eating that well,” he explained, citing such widespread health issues as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. “If we could take our skillset, which is developing delicious, clean label foods, and somehow make a small impact by putting better products out there …  it’s not only a good business proposition, it’s the right thing to do.”

Crowell’s long history in the food industry started in foodservice, where he was formally trained as a chef before owning a Mediterranean restaurant in the 90s. When his stint in restaurant ownership and management ended, Crowell found himself on the R&D side of the restaurant business — first as director of food product development at Olive Garden. Then, in 1998, he became the first director of food product development for Starbucks.

“About seven years into that run with Starbucks, I wanted to start to get healthier products into the food program at Starbucks,” he said. “[Food] was not necessarily the area they wanted to take leadership in, so I left the company to found CuliNEX in 2005.”

CuliNEX was started specifically for clean label food product development, Crowell explained. The goal was to make products without artificial colorants, flavors, flavor systems or preservative systems, which were primarily non-GMO.

“The idea was to keep products simple and wholesome and adhere to more of a whole food philosophy in the development work that we did,” Crowell said.

Today, the clean label landscape is driven by a key “big picture,” long-term trend, according to Crowell. “People wanting to eat healthier products,” he said. In packaged food, that translates to cleaner labels, shorter ingredient statements on the products that they’re eating, and more recognizable ingredients.

Similarly, transparency is another long-term, big-picture driver in packaged food. People want to know “where the food is coming from, where the ingredient is coming from, how it’s grown, perhaps where it was sourced, or that it had some sort of connection to the people who actually grew it or made it or have it as part of their traditional diet,” Crowell explained.

Together, these trends indicate a greater hunger by consumers for “authenticity,” he added. “There’s this interest in authenticity, as well as an interest in health and an interest in simplicity, where people really understand more about the products that they're eating and feel good about them.”

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing writer

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the healthy food and beverage industry.
Join 30,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like