“Clean label” movement picks up steam

“Clean label” movement picks up steam

“Clean label” has become a hot topic in the food and beverage industry as consumers begin to look more closely at what goes into their food and beverages. Many consumers are now using the “kitchen test”-“can the ingredients on the label be found in my own kitchen?”-as their rule of thumb to determine whether or not to buy a product. They are scrutinizing ingredients decks on packages for a short list of ingredients with names they can recognize, and avoiding those with unpronounceable, chemical-sounding names. Consumer preference for clean labels and concerns about food additives are pressing issues for the processed food industry, because they are deeply rooted in long-term trends including consumers’ focus on the connection between diet and health combined with their skepticism of health claims on foods.

As the Federal government debates changes to the Nutrition Facts panels and ingredients labels on packaged foods and beverages, some of the biggest marketers, retailers, and foodservice providers are ahead of the pack when it comes to labeling trends. These companies are acting proactively as they feel the winds of change-whether from potential government legislation, nutritional recommendations, or consumer demands-by reformulating and repositioning mainstream products and lines with simpler ingredients and cleaner labels.

Just a few examples in recent months:

•  Kraft Foods Group announced that it will remove artificial colors and preservatives from its flagship Original Macaroni & Cheese boxed dinner mixes beginning in January 2016.

•  The Hershey Co. announced that it will begin reformulating its products with simpler and easier-to-understand ingredients, following a three-prong strategy: simpler, more natural ingredients, transparency and ingredient information shared with consumers, and sourcing responsible and sustainable ingredients.

•  Hershey’s announcement came a day after competitor Nestlé USA announced it would stop using artificial colors and flavors in all its chocolate candy products by the end of 2015.

•  Unilever USA announced that it has committed to sourcing milk and cream only from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones for all its ice cream brands, beginning with Breyers. In 2014, Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s brand relaunched its full line of ice cream flavors sold in the United States without genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

•  In late April, Tyson Foods, the country’s biggest poultry producer, promised that by September 2017, it expects to eliminate the use of giving its chickens antibiotics that are also used in human medicine.  Tyson is a major chicken supplier to McDonald’s, which a month earlier announced that its 14,000 U.S. units will stop selling chicken raised with human antibiotics within the next two years.

•  Kroger Co., the nation’s largest conventional grocery store operator, reported that its Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic private label lines, which are “minimally processed” and free-from 101 ingredients Kroger has identified as of concern to its customers, hit $1.2 billion annual sales in 2014 and continue to earn double-digit unit and dollar growth.

Meanwhile, a proprietary Packaged Facts National Consumer Survey conducted in January 2015 among 2,284 U.S. respondents age 18+ point up consumer ambivalence toward the processed food industry, despite the fact that so many people rely on these products on a daily basis. Two out of three consumers (67%) favor groceries with fewer and simpler ingredients, and 61% agree “there are specific ingredients I avoid and make sure aren’t present in the packaged foods I buy.” In addition, approximately two out of three consumers take nutritional content statements, ingredient-free statements (a clean label element), and statements about health benefits (a nutraceutical element) into consideration when buying packaged foods and beverages. Almost four out of five 79% and 78% of consumers, respectively, consider the “ingredients list” and the “Nutrition Facts panel” very or somewhat important to their food and beverage purchasing decisions, with and more than half of consumers considering them “very important.”

This blog is based partially on research featured in Packaged Facts’ Nutritional Labeling and Clean Labels in the U.S.: Future of Food Retailing.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through September 15, 2015. Use code PFLABEL0612.

-       Susan Porjes