Editor's note: The following is a contribution from Tetra Pak USA Vice President of Sales Eliseo Barcas. For more than two decades, he has collaborated with customers and served as a leader on sales and marketing teams in Europe, North America and South America, focusing on fast-moving consumer goods and business-to-business sectors. He currently leads commercial and marketing efforts, including defining strategy and directing execution for the shelf-stable carton portfolio.
Today’s health-minded consumers are doing more than just scrutinizing the list of ingredients on the packaged foods they buy. They’re also looking for labels that are short, simple and clean.
The clean-label trend is guiding purchasing behavior and appears to be here to stay for several reasons. The five-ingredient rule, with products that contain fewer and more recognizable ingredients, is taking off in the food and beverage industry. At the same time, recent FDA labeling changes require a declaration of added sugars and other ingredients.
This increase in food label awareness among consumers suggests that food and beverage companies should consider embracing a “less is more” approach and work to educate customers about natural ingredients.
What does natural mean?
With many food and beverage products marketed as “natural,” it can be difficult to separate legitimate health claims from buzzwords. The FDA agrees. The agency recently issued a call for public comments as it works to define the term “natural” from a food science perspective.
In the meantime, it’s important for companies to understand how consumers view the word natural.
Food writer Michael Pollan suggests that consumers want labels showing ingredients they recognize and can pronounce. The author of "7 Rules for Eating" said people seek foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, and try to avoid what they deem to be overly processed products with artificial dyes and additives.
Throughout the industry, the demand for simple ingredients is already driving sales. Natural, organic food is predicted to represent 14 percent of total sales by the year 2020, according to Food Business News.
How to keep it simple
According to global consumer research from Mintel, more than a third (37 percent) of consumers are confused about the information companies put on their labels. Even more (38 percent) are downright skeptical.
For these reasons, transparency is key for food and beverage companies seeking to resonate with clean-eating consumers.
There are several simple ways to make this happen, including making food labels on products easier to understand by using plain language over scientific-sounding names when possible.
Reformulating products to include more wholesome ingredients, such as swapping out artificial sweeteners and dyes and replacing them with natural alternatives, is another approach. Consider whether the food needs the same amount of preservatives. For some products, switching to aseptic carton packaging can help eliminate unnecessary sugar or additives.
Another approach is to emphasize what isn’t in a product. There are many things consumers are keen to avoid these days, including gluten, trans fat and genetically modified fruits and vegetables.
The clean label trend is a big opportunity for companies looking to connect with consumers. It begins by understanding what consumers want and delivering packaged or preserved products to meet this demand.