Nearly two out of three consumers say that ingredients have at least a moderate influence on their food and beverage purchases, according to new research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Thirty percent say ingredients have a big influence, according to the survey, which was conducted with 1,054 adults this past May. Sixty-three percent of consumers said they were paying more attention to ingredient lists.
Almost two-thirds of consumers say they try to choose foods made from clean ingredients, which the highest percentage define as “not artificial or synthetic” (22%), followed by “organic,” "fresh," “something they know is nutritious” and "natural." Almost half consider themselves as clean eaters, with “eating foods that aren’t highly processed” the top definition.
- As the demand for clean label products has increased, the industry has struggled with how to define the term. This is as clean label has surpassed brand recognition as consumers' most important consideration when purchasing a food product.
Figuring out what qualifies as clean label for consumers has been an ongoing process for food and beverage manufacturers eager to capitalize on the trend. Regulators have struggled to provide the industry with clarity around the term, leaving the industry with little guidance.
A few trends are emerging to shed light on what clean label means to consumers. Natural flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors are “far preferred” over artificial versions, according to the IFIC research.
Roughly half of consumers say they avoid artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives at least some of the time. One-quarter of consumers also strongly agree that they are avoiding chemical-sounding ingredients in foods and beverages. For more than one in four consumers, the primary motivation for avoiding chemical-sounding ingredients center around health concerns.
Learning how consumers educate themselves about specific ingredients may help food companies better meet their needs. While 62% of consumers review a product’s ingredient list, more than half use front-of-pack labeling as a source of information, according to the IFIC research.
As more consumers show a willingness to learn about ingredients and read labels, however, food manufacturers may have to invest more effort figuring out what qualifies as clean label and what doesn’t. Three in 10 consumers strongly agree that they are paying more attention to ingredient lists than they did five years ago while 26% strongly agree that they are prioritizing clean label ingredients.
One of the biggest challenges for food manufacturers creating clean label products has been finding effective swaps for ingredients that are artificial or have chemical-sounding names. Twenty-one percent of shoppers are aiming to avoid what they perceive as potentially harmful effects of chemical-sounding ingredients while 18% are concerned about the potential side effects of unfamiliar ingredients, according to the IFIC survey. This has led to an uptick in products with minimal, simple and familiar ingredients.
In recent years, Big Food has attempted to swap out artificial ingredients for natural, but with mixed success. For example, after introducing natural hues for its Trix cereal in 2015, General Mills eventually resumed using artificial colors due to what it described as consumer demand.