Looking beyond the claims

by Allison Sebolt
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Consumers today don’t just want to see a claim on a package — they want proof. According to Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago, accountability and transparency are going to be major global consumer trends in 2010.

“Consumers are looking for proof whenever claims are being made,” said Krista Faron, a senior analyst with Mintel. “That can take all sorts of different forms, but they are looking for results. They are looking for validation and they are looking for backup so that claims and messages are substantiated in some way.”

The proof and validation is necessary in many areas, whether it relates to sustainability claims or health claims, identifying the regional source of a product, or even to justify why certain ingredients are used in a product.

For example, The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, recently partnered with Harvestmark, a food traceability system provider, to provide a way for consumers to trace the origins of the produce in its Kroger’s Fresh Selections bagged salads. Each bag has a 16-digit code consumers may use to enter on HarvestMark.com to find more information about the salad’s origin, packing location, ingredients, and date and time the product was packed.

“Our partnership with HarvestMark makes it easy for customers who are interested to learn more about the food they purchase for themselves and their families,” said Joe Grieshaber, group vice-president of Kroger’s meat, seafood, deli and produce departments. “Kroger is committed to helping our customers prepare safe and delicious meals for their families. We look forward to continuing to offer our customers innovative and affordable food safety technology.”

Frito-Lay, a division of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc., even has what it calls The Chip Tracker for Lay’s Potato Chips. Consumers visit the company’s web site and enter the first three digits of the product code on the bag and their zip code to access traceability information related to where the product was manufactured.

“This idea of traceability is really going very mainstream when you see a category leader like Frito-Lay in a rather untraditional traceability category start to focus on that kind of accountability,” Ms. Faron said. “I think it denotes that major changes are afoot.”

In its Select Harvest line, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., lists all ingredients as required, but also puts an asterisk next to any ingredients that might sound chemical or foreign to consumers and then toward the bottom of the label explains what those “questionable” ingredients are and why they are used in the product. Ms. Faron said this is a great step the company has taken and there is no way the company is simply adding ingredients to make the product cheaper or more cost-effective to produce. The focus is entirely on what consumers think of the ingredients.

Ms. Faron said companies have to be realistic about how much information they provide on labels as there are limits to what a company may put on the label in order to prove claims.

“No company is going to be able to provide their full scientific backup on a package, but companies can do a good job of using other vehicles — especially web sites — for providing the evidence consumers are looking for,” Ms. Faron said.

Ms. Faron said consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of some claims and want more information simply due to the proliferation of claims being made and message overloading. She said when green and sustainability claims were relatively new consumers were more willing to accept them, but now skepticism has increased as almost every company is making such claims.

“We have seen health claims explode and companies become more aggressive with the types of claims they are making, so we are seeing a bit of backlash against that,” Ms. Faron said.

Ms. Faron said a good example of this backlash is what led to the suspension of the Smart Choices program.

“Consumers and advocacy groups didn’t understand why products were included in that program,” Ms. Faron said. “Perhaps there wasn’t as much transparency or proof as they would like to have seen, and that was basically the cause of its demise.”

She said the same concept also applies to the recent backlash against immunity claims on Rice Krispies.

Ms. Faron said even companies who do a good job of presenting scientific support for their claims will be subjected to scrutiny, citing Dannon’s Activia line as an example. Despite leveraging its web site to provide information, there was still a lawsuit regarding the digestive health claims made.

“It’s important to use good sense in coming up with a marketing claim,” Ms. Faron said. “If there is some doubt consumers might accept the claims, then companies might be wise to soften the messages they are conveying.”

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