As 2015 taught the food industry, clean label is no longer a fad or a trendy request from consumers; it’s the standard—everything from salad dressings to soups and sauces and even sweets. Consumers are digging deep in this back-to-basics, farm-to-table approach that encompasses a very honest, clean and straighforward way of preparing, processing, creating, packaging and everything in between the food they eat and serve to their family and friends. But clean—or clear—label’s reach goes way beyond what’s on the nutritional panel and ingredient lineup; as the industry is discovering, consumers are interested in who your brand is and who your brand isn’t. Data supports that consumers may be less driven by nutritional claims and panels, and more with ingredient transparency and reputation. According to a report by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, more than eight in 10 (82 percent) of global consumers saying that “ingredient transparency is a very important or important factor" when shopping for food and beverage products.
Both storytelling, which is key component to transparency, and processing (which we’ll discuss in a minute) not only made Mintel’s global food and drink trends for 2016, but Innova Market Insights’ Top 10 Trends list for 2016 as well. Mintel analyst Jenny Zegler explained the market research firm’s “Based on a True Story" trend, stating, “Consumers have been romanced by product origin, ingredients or inspiration stories. With similar claims made by legitimately handcrafted as well as mass-produced products, this proliferation—and occasional propagation—will find consumers and regulators alike seeking products with verified claims."
Innova’s trend, “Creating a ‘Real’ Link" trend outlines how food companies are sharing their stories and being transparent about where their food products originate from. “Claims such as ‘Made in’ and ‘Ingredients from’ are on the rise—in fact they’ve tripled from 2011 to 2015," said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights. “This trend is also connecting farmers to the end consumer, and local flavors to communities."
How a food item is processed not only ties into clean label’s expanding reach, but it’s part of many brands’ stories. Innova’s trend, "Processing the Natural Way", said brands are being more honest about their production processes and, in fact, many brands are featuring on-pack communication about how their food is processed.
Where clean label gets sticky, however, is understanding the impact of food labels and how well consumers understand them. Given that the essence of clean label is a product’s label, it’s imperative consumers understand what each item on a label means. Mintel’s Food Packaging Trends: Spotlight on Food Labeling, US, August 2015 report said only 25 percent of grocery shoppers think nutritional panels are easy to understand.
One area of particular confusion is the FDA proposed percent daily value for added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label of packaged foods. Although it would give consumers additional information for added sugars, many worry consumers would pay more attention to the added sugars than calories, or would add the “added sugars" to the total sugar content. FDA said it needs to do more consumer research to determine how they would understand and use that information. Another issue is how do manufacturers measure these “added sugars" versus the naturally occurring sugars. How much of the sugars adding during processes or what not are burned off during fermentation or heat processing, for instance.
(The percent daily value indicates how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet and would help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families. The percent daily value would be based on the recommendation that the daily intake of calories from added sugars not exceed 10 percent of total calories.)
Industry may need to revamp its labeling approach due to consumer confusion; this could mean adding a “what is this" section, among other tactics. FDA will likely play a role as well, probably in matters concerning the “added sugars" percent daily value as well as other proposed Nutritional Facts panel changes.