According to the Flavors of North America (FONA) 2017 Trend Insight Report, 64% of shoppers prefer foods that are minimally processed, and 54% look for food and beverage products with few and recognizable ingredients.
Consumers are “taking control of their food choices by reading labels and understanding ingredients” and are “driven to make healthy choices.” According to the report, 77% of consumers say “eating healthy makes me feel in control of my life.”
33% of consumers say that labels have “a lot of influence on their purchase/usage of healthy and natural products," more so than food prices or sales. Shoppers are also looking to manufacturers for increased transparency and food education.
Once a term known only to industry, the concept of “clean label” food is increasingly becoming a sought-after part of the grocery shopping experience.
Though 34% of consumers believe that food and beverage manufacturers are transparent and 37% believe they are genuinely “interested in promoting healthy food choices," consumer distrust of Big Food and over-processed artificial ingredients is growing among shoppers.
Consumers want their food to be healthy and natural, and associate the term “clean label” with those desires — though few are confident of the word’s meaning. The majority of shoppers expect clear definitions and education about food content, sourcing and preparation from the brands they trust.
The problem is the majority of manufacturers and retailers are unsure of what clean labels entail. Many believe the term is synonymous with “free from” products, or “food and drink that has been designated to exclude one or more ingredients to which at least some consumers can either have an allergic [reaction] or an intolerance," according to Organic and Fair Plus Consulting.
As of right now, the term has no official definition and this will remain the case until the FDA or USDA provides specific guidance to both retailers and manufacturers. It’s unclear whether these government agencies will devote time to the issue under the Trump administration, but manufacturers can’t afford to wait for top-down instruction, regardless.
If food companies want to stay ahead of consumer health demands and remain competitive, they need to determine what their brand’s definition of clean label is and make those definitions clear to consumers.
Cleaning up product formulas is the first step, but what’s really important is successfully communicating what is and isn’t used in food products to consumers. Consumers want minimal, “clean” labels with short, easy-to-interpret ingredients lists. They care about phrases such as “minimally processed," even when they only have a vague understanding of what that means.
It’s important to make these labels easy to find on product packaging. Shoppers don’t want to waste time poring over long explanations of product ingredients — they demand convenience. The visual way that labels are presented is just as important as having clean, natural ingredients.