- Containing natural ingredients and having clean labels now surpass brand recognition and product descriptions as the most important consideration for consumers when purchasing a food product, according to a recent survey reported by Ingredients Network. Beneo, an ingredient supplier, conducted the poll of 3,000 online consumers in the U.S., Germany and the UK.
- In the survey, 59% of respondents noted that with clean labels, they expected a product that is labeled "natural" to be healthy. Half equated "natural" with high quality. Additionally, 53% of consumers said that products labeled "natural" should not be genetically modified.
- Although less significant in the decision-making process, the survey also found that product descriptions (49%) and brands (45%) did not lag far behind clean label concerns in terms of importance.
Transparency and "free from" have become indispensable qualities in the food business. In order to keep up with competition and consumer needs, Big Food companies are being forced to display their inner workings to the public. Manufacturers that ignore transparency could risk losing customer loyalty, trust and awareness as shoppers direct their attention to competitors.
Along with this push toward accountability within industry practices, transparency has also made its way onto product labels as customers seek to understand exactly what they’re putting in their bodies. Another survey published earlier this year found that 75% of consumers say they'll switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information. Not only do they want a simplified list of ingredients, but they are increasingly asking for "free from" food — often defined as not just free of specific ingredients, but also avoiding animal cruelty, genetically modified ingredients and unsustainable supply chains.
Beneo’s survey underscores how brand value is inextricably linked to ingredient lists and company claims. More than ever, consumers want to know if products meet their personal expectations, so they are relying on labels to convey company values. This trend has radically changed the way food products are marketed. The focus has turned to the manufacturer's ingredients, processes and backstory instead of commercial jingles or memorable scenes showing how products impact consumers.
But the survey also showed that the degree to which consumers expect natural ingredients is highly dependent on the product category. Particularly for products aimed at children, studies have shown 100% of millennial moms are looking for cleaner choices — and said they would pay more for transparency. But it's not just millennial parents who are willing to pay more; consumers of all demographics said they would pay up for a clean label.
In terms of ingredients, natural and clean label have become expectations. According to the survey, "no preservatives/made with natural ingredients" was the claim most closely associated with naturalness. Consumers' varying definitions of "natural" show that it still isn't defined for both companies and customers. Regardless of the actual definition, consumers agree that they want it on the label.
Classic food brands have a lot to figure out as they navigate new consumer demands. While brand names may no longer be enough to satisfy consumers, manufacturers need to be careful if they make the costly decision to reformulate their products. While doing so would likely give them access to a new demographic, it may also run the risk of alienating some loyal customers.