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Consumers ‘Actively Seek’ Natural Ingredients, Clean Label Packaging

Image Credit: Ingredion

Products that can be positioned as ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ and/or ‘free from additives/preservatives,’ are part of a movement that is here to stay, according to global ingredients solutions company Ingredion. Research commissioned by the company reveals that European customers are paying more attention to food packaging and ingredients, with a preference for clean label positioning – a short, simple ingredient list that features minimally processed ingredients.

“Our research tells us that consumers are actively looking for products with clean label claims,” said Mona Schmitz-Hübsch, European Marketing Manager at Ingredion.

In a survey of 500 UK and 500 Russian consumers, an average of 30 percent of consumers are “actively seeking” products with some form of clean label claim, while 70 percent of those purchasing dairy and bakery products are aware of clean label claims and say these claims influence their buying decision.

“This demonstrates the importance of clean label claims in enhancing the shelf appeal of dairy and bakery goods,” Schmitz-Hübsch explained. “By providing information on the impact of different types of clean label claims on consumers, this report helps food manufacturers to successfully develop new products, and reformulate existing ones, in the dairy and bakery clean label space.”

The survey findings build on previous findings commissioned by Ingredion. A survey of over 2,800 Europeans across 9 countries, conducted in 2013, found that while price remains ‘very or quite important’ to the largest percentage of consumers (86 percent), the ingredient list of food and drink products is important to the second largest proportion (77 percent), and claims of ‘no additives’ or ‘no artificial ingredients’ was important to the third largest proportion (68 percent). Only 53 percent felt that the manufacturer or brand was very or quite important.

Of course, taste and texture remain paramount. Schmitz-Hübsch explained, “In dairy, for example, yoghurts are considered both as health foods and an indulgent treat. The challenge for manufacturers is to deliver clean label desserts that taste great and offer the creamy, thick texture the consumer expects. At the same time, sweeteners and artificial colouring are, in the main, unacceptable in dairy. This is where functional ingredients that support a ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ positioning can meet the clean label requirements of food manufacturers.”

Kraft Mac & Cheese’s iconic bright yellow cheese provides a great example of how food companies do not need to compromise taste to go all-natural. The company recently concluded “the world’s largest blind taste test,” after changing its North American recipe to eliminate artificial colors and flavors only to find that very few people noticed the difference.

According to the 2013 survey, 61 percent of European consumers would consider switching their current brand for an alternative with a ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ claim, and 59 percent would consider switching to an alternative with no artificial ingredients. Further, ‘natural colors’ and ‘natural flavors’ were the most accepted ingredients in all 9 countries, while other familiar “store cupboard” ingredients such as sugar, vegetable oils, and starch were also widely accepted. These preferences are even stronger for dairy and bakery products: ‘natural’ or ‘no additives’ claims were the most likely to trigger switching intent, with 63 percent of respondents saying they would switch in favour of an all-natural claim in the 2016 survey of UK and Russian citizens.

Stateside, several companies have committed to eliminating artificial colors and/or flavors from at least some of their products, including Campbell Soup, Nestlé USA, General Mills, and Mars. Further, Campbell Soup and General Mills have also called for a nationwide solution for labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US.

The clean label movement also extends beyond food products: For example, Target recently raised the standards for inclusion in its Made to Matter collection, and included ‘clean label’ as one way to meet the new criteria.

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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