Clean Labels Are More Important Than Brand, Study Finds
Natural and clean label ingredients have become an absolute expectation for consumers, but what they consider to be natural varies widely. Ingredient supplier Beneo commissioned this latest poll among 3,000 online consumers in the United States, Germany and the UK. It found 59% of respondents expected a ‘natural’ product to be healthy, 53% said they thought it should not be genetically modified, and 50% equated ‘natural’ with high quality.
Food manufacturers have often struggled with consumer expectations of naturalness, especially since it lacks a precise definition (except in relation to flavorings in the EU). And some of the attributes that make a product ‘clean label’ for consumers are not necessarily those that a manufacturer considers when switching out artificial ingredients. Low sugar, for example, was associated with natural products for 39% of global consumers, while food safety (40%) and ‘pure taste’ (44%) were also top expectations.
Previously, the term ‘clean label’ tended to refer to simplified ingredient lists and removal of artificial ingredients, but its definition has expanded in recent years, and is now widely understood to include concepts like ‘free from’, not just in terms of allergens, but also from animal cruelty, genetically modified ingredients and unsustainable supply chains. Reflecting this shift, Innova Market Insights refers to ‘clear label’, meaning transparency about how ingredients are sourced, as well as about what is in the product.
While BENEO’s latest survey underlined the importance of clean label ingredients, product description and brand were still important for a large proportion of consumers – 49% and 45% respectively. However, it also suggests brand value is reliant on how ingredient lists and product claims match up with consumer expectations, as shoppers look for clear, relevant claims. Among survey respondents, ‘no preservatives/made with natural ingredients’ was the claim most closely associated with naturalness.
The degree to which consumers expect natural ingredients is highly dependent on product category, too. Manufacturers of foods and drinks for children, for example, might have a long list of ingredients that consumers generally would prefer to avoid. On the other hand, consumers concerned with animal welfare may be more accepting of less ‘clean’ ingredients in plant-based meat and milk alternatives, because they place more importance on animal welfare.
The bottom line is that manufacturers of iconic food brands must be aware that the brand alone may no longer be sufficient to meet consumer demands. Yet they walk a fine line when it comes to reformulation with more natural ingredients, and must take care not to alienate loyal consumers.