Shifting consumer demands have led to immense innovation in the food and beverage categories with the current trends led by an emphasis on health and wellness, and a desire for products formulated with ingredients consumers can pronounce, as well as products with shortened ingredient lists.
According to new research from Mintel, 84 percent of American free-from consumers buy free-from foods because they are seeking out more natural or less processed foods. In fact, 43 percent of consumers agree that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim, while another 59 percent believe the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is.
Among the top claims free-from consumers deem most important are trans fat-free (78 percent) and preservative-free (71 percent). GMO-free claims are also important to free-from consumers (58 percent), with 35 percent ranking it as one of their top three most important claims. In fact, interest in GMO-free foods (37 percent) among all consumers outweighs interest in foods free of soy (22 percent), nuts/peanuts (20 percent) and eggs (17 percent). Another popular claim for consumers is sodium-free (57 percent), with 40 percent listing it as one of their three most important claims.
“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans fat-free, no doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the U.S. and its related health consequences. Health issues appear to be top of mind among U.S. consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies," said Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Mintel data also shows elevated interest in the GMO-free claim, which ranks among the top four most important claims for many consumers and is more important than soy-free and nut/peanut-free foods."
Data also found millennials (60 percent) and Gen X (55 percent) are much more likely than baby boomers (46 percent) to agree that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy. Despite this, just 37 percent of consumers overall agree that products with free-from claims are worth paying more for.
While 33 percent one third of boomers believe allergen-free foods are a fad, 18 percent of all consumers say they would like a full list of ingredients related to food allergens on product packaging. Millennials’ interest in free-from food claims coincides with product launches in recent years, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD). In 2010, 11 percent of food product launches featured a low/no/reduced allergen claim. By 2014, 28 percent of food product launches boasted the claim, the highest of any free-from claim last year.
Currently, the snack food sector is experiencing huge growth. More than ever before, Americans are incorporating snacking into their routine, along with three meals per day. Mintel research shows that 94 percent of Americans snack daily, with two thirds snacking multiple times per day (65 percent). Despite the propensity to engage in snacking, consumers associate snack products with harmful ingredients such as GMOs and artificial elements. In fact, nearly half of Americans (46 percent) agree that snacks typically include controversial ingredients when compared to other food categories. However, nearly one quarter of snack product launches in 2014 included no additives/preservatives (23 percent), low/no/reduced allergen (25 percent) and/or low/no/reduced trans fat (21 percent) claims, according to Mintel GNPD.
“Snacks are often associated with controversial ingredients such as GMOs and artificial additives, and despite products entering the market with free-from claims, consumers are slow to alter their perceptions," Roberts said. “Overall, Mintel data indicates that consumers perceive foods with any free-from claim to be both healthier and less processed. Additionally, consumers appear to be equating genetic modification, artificial and unhealthy as one and the same, and those consumers are likely to turn away from product labels with unfamiliar ingredients or ingredients perceived as chemically complex or unnatural."
As consumers begin to look more closely at what goes into their food and beverages, the industry is reformulating and repositioning mainstream products and lines to have cleaner labels. Aware of what consumers want, major retailers are adding their weight to pushing food and beverage producers to make sweeping changes in their products. Many retailers have developed their own brands of clean-label products, and foodservice providers also are making the shift toward more transparency and cleaner ingredients statements.
Hungry for more information about clean labels? Food Product Design’s new digital issue, “Clean-Label Bars," explores consumers’ desire to live healthier and how that is shaping how nutritional bars are made. A lot takes place from concept to the final product, and formulators are tasked with finding clean-label ingredients, such as sweeteners, proteins, fibers and inclusions, which not only look good on a label but also yield a bar in perfect form with piece integrity, shelf longevity and palatability.