Heightened consumer interest in 'clean' goes far beyond the label

by Keith Nunes
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Keith Nunes

Science may elevate consumer concern over the potential impact of chemicals in food on overall health and well-being. The study found that three-quarters of the honeys produced around the world contain neonicotinoids, a family of pesticides. The only good news to come from the study is the concentrations of the pesticides remain below the maximum permitted levels for human consumption.

Carried out by the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and the Botanical Garden of the City of Neuchâtel, the research was conducted throughout 2015 and 2016 and the researchers analyzed 198 honey samples from around the world. Contamination rates varied by region, with 86% of the samples from North America being contaminated, followed by Asia (80%), Europe (79%) and South America (57%).

The honey study comes on the heels of a long-running debate in the European Union over whether to ban pesticides containing the chemical glyphosate, a key ingredient in the Monsanto pesticide Roundup, and a lawsuit in the United States seeking to determine if glyphosate is a carcinogen.

Honey
Three-quarters of the honeys produced around the world contain neonicotinoids, a family of pesticides.
 

Food and beverage manufacturers may view these issues as problems for agricultural producers, but the past decade repeatedly has demonstrated intense consumer interest in what may be in their food, whether or not considered unsafe. Resulting perceptions may affect the level of trust they have in a brand and a company, an outcome documented in consumer research.

Two charts in the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health survey sum up consumer attitudes toward chemicals in their food. When asked what are the most important food safety issues today, respondents ranked foodborne illness from bacteria, carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food, chemicals in food, pesticide/pesticide residues, and food additives and ingredients in the top five. Just behind, animal antibiotics and biotechnology/genetically modified organisms ranked sixth and seventh.

When survey respondents were asked in a follow-up question if they had changed their eating habits due to a food safety concern, the ranking order changed. Carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food, pesticides/pesticide residues climbed into the top two spots, followed by foodborne illness from bacteria, chemicals in food, and food additives and ingredients.

In 2015, this magazine identified as the trend of the year clean label initiatives together with other food and beverage company product reformulation efforts launched with an eye toward simplicity. Since that time the trend has gained momentum relentlessly. Today, it is difficult to identify a food manufacturer or an ingredient supplier that has not been influenced by the clean label phenomenon.

At this point, it is worth asking if many of the renovation efforts have been worth the investment? Growth via innovation remains elusive for most companies, and the International Food Information Council Foundation survey results show that consumer concerns, particularly those concerns that may influence buying habits, are far reaching and extend well beyond a product’s label. Even if clean label has not been a growth catapult for food products, the trend increasingly has become “table stakes” for companies seeking to sustain sales and reputation of top brands.

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