Consumers search for clear understanding of 'clean label'

by Dan Malovany
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Clean label bread, IFT17
Americans perceive a “clean label” as having a small number of simple, easy-to-understand ingredients listed on the package.

LAS VEGAS — More than half of consumers report they’re familiar with “clean label,” but just 38% indicated a strong understanding of its exact definition, according to preliminary results of new research by Kerry, Beloit, Wis.

Rather, the study reflected that respondents have a multifaceted interpretation of the commonly used industry term. Participants associated popular descriptors such as “all natural,” “non-G.M.O.” and “no additives or preservatives” with the term as well as other product attributes such as “farm grown,” “sustainably produced,” “minimally processed” and “made with real ingredients.”

“One of the interesting things that came out of the research is everyone is reading label declarations, and 9 in 10 are reading label declarations and saying they actually would be willing to pay more for foods that are ‘clean label,’” noted Renetta Cooper, business development director at Kerry during the recently held IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and exposition in Las Vegas.

Overall, the report gathered information from 2,600 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany. While the survey did include consumers from those four regions, these initial findings are related to U.S. respondents only. Additional insights from other regions will be shared as they become available.

Ms. Cooper said Americans perceive a “clean label” as having a small number of simple, easy-to-understand ingredients listed on the package, but confusion still abounds.

“If there are ingredients on the label, consumers would like to understand what they are,” Ms. Cooper observed. “Ingredients that read or sound like chemicals are going to be a big challenge for many bakers.”

Moreover, consumers are looking for foods that provide a “good or excellent” source of nutrients such as fiber or protein, said Nathan Pratt, nutrition analyst at Kerry. Consumers also had a high awareness of added sugar, fats and calories, he said.

Sustainability also popped up in the preliminary findings.

“Consumers want healthy food that they can understand where it is coming from,” Mr. Pratt said. “It’s a convergence of those two trends.”

Further analysis of the research, expected to be released later this year, will focus on pinpointing consumer drivers and commercial opportunities, specifically for companies in the baking, dairy and meat industries.

“Clean label is a big trend and moving very quickly, and it’s something that most of our customers want to move into,” Ms. Cooper said.

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By Tom Lennon 7/17/2017 1:51:57 PM
It would be interesting to know the income and education levels of the respondents in this survey. Clean labels will be something for all food manufacturers to strive for in the coming years, but I wonder at what point the cost overrides the label at lower income levels?