KANSAS CITY — A panel of speakers at this year’s Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Leadership Forum encouraged industry executives to think about clean label less as a defined term and more as a spectrum of attributes. This spectrum is evolving into what may be called “customized eating,” which sits at the intersection of simplicity, transparency, health and wellness, ingredient avoidance, sustainability and other attributes that may drive consumers to make a purchase. It represents the consumer’s growing control over the path to purchase and, according to at least one of the speakers, it is where category growth may be found.
At the outset of the G.M.A. session, Patrick Moorhead, chief marketing officer of Label Insight, presented a table showing the category of “conventional” food and beverage products to the far left. To the right of conventional were such attributes as “free from,” “clean,” “simple” and “sustainable.”
Absent from the slide was a breakdown of the types of products in the market, of which Mr. Moorhead said the majority of fall into the conventional category. Yet, he added, retail sales growth is moving in dramatic fashion from the conventional bucket on the left to the buckets on the right featuring such attributes as clean, healthy or sustainable.
But, as many food and beverage companies have found, tapping into that growth is complex. As the clean label trend emerged a decade ago, its genesis was attributed to consumer concern regarding ingredients used in product formulation and the processing technologies utilized. That explanation is only part of the story.
The clean label trend is one of the first indications of something much deeper — consumers more deeply engaged, taking greater control of the purchasing process and demanding more customized items. They were using apps, search engines and social media to identify specific products that fit their lifestyles and dietary needs, and they were putting their purchasing power behind those products that best fit their needs. Today, the number of tools available to consumers to explore and identify products that fit their needs has grown significantly, and the path to purchase has become far more complex.
The clean label trend is one of the first indications of something much deeper.
Adapting to this new path to purchase has led to the reorganization of some of the industry’s largest companies. Management structures have been streamlined to speed decision making and make organizations more agile in responding to changing consumer demands.
At a more granular level, consumer packaged goods marketers are expending greater resources to engage consumers and convert that engagement into purchases. Targeted marketing programs, search engine optimization and customer relationship management are just a few of the critical tools necessary to engage the shopper when they are making purchasing decisions or influence them at the point of purchase.
In a separate session, James L. Dinkins, the president of Coca-Cola North America, told the G.M.A. audience his company thinks of brands as people. “We think of the person that brand represents,” he said. This thinking reflects a need to manage brands in a personal, customized manner. Mr. Dinkins’ point underscores the significant implications personal technology is having today. The consumer is following their own path to purchase and that individualization is upending many aspects of the marketplace.