CHICAGO — The term clean label has become a pillar in food industry vernacular, but it’s not necessarily a term that is part of the consumer’s vocabulary. For most shoppers, the clean label product development movement is more of a force that comes to life by the language on product packages and marketing materials. It encompasses more than a product’s ingredient label and continues to evolve as consumers become more engaged in the farm-to-fork process.
“The consumer demand for clean food has been gaining momentum for some time,” said Laurie Demeritt, chief executive officer of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. “We’ve now reached the point where clean label is not just today’s reality; it is the path that packaged food and beverage companies must take if brands are to remain relevant with consumers. It is but one major outcropping of the broader food cultural trend toward all things less processed and real.”
“Clean label has been a purchase driver for more than five years,” she said. “Yet, confusion still abounds among consumers as well as manufacturers and brands looking to meet consumers’ needs.
“Recognizing this void, we conducted an extensive consumer survey to pinpoint specific drivers as they relate to clean label and understand the commercial opportunities related to those drivers.”
In the United States, respondents connected product attributes ranging from “farm grown” to “sustainably produced” and “minimally processed” to “made with real ingredients” to the concept of clean label. This suggests clean label is a multidimensional opportunity for food manufacturers and brands.
“As clean label is multidimensional in the minds of consumers, it is critical for manufacturers to learn the attributes their target consumers expect from a clean label to ensure they focus on the right ingredients,” Ms. Cooper said.
This varies by food category. A clean label heat-and-eat entree may have very different attributes than a grain-based snack or yogurt.
The Hartman Group adds to that evolving multidimensional definition of clean label. The research firm includes “premium marketplace” in its characterization, which is shorthand for consumer demand for higher-quality foods and beverages. The premium foods typically come with a higher price tag, such as what consumers encounter with many organic and specialty foods.
It is the “if it costs more, it must be better” phenomenon. And interestingly, Kerry’s research showed that nearly 9 in 10 consumers who read labels are willing to pay more for food perceived as clean. This suggests the economics of sourcing premium ingredients should not be a deterrent in clean label product development.