Kerry research highlights the driving forces behind the clean label movement

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10 Nov 2017 --- Clean label continues to top many food product development agendas and the notion of clean label and natural claims having been a prominent industry trend since 2008. The demand for total transparency is now increasing marketing efforts that incorporate the entire supply chain into a product's branding. The upstream part of the value chain is gaining more attention in product and brand positioning, as the overarching clean label positioning becomes more holistic. More products are carrying claims referring to agricultural practices, while calls for transparency have led to strong regional marketing; through the use of origin flags and illustrations.

Just this week, Innova Market Insights released its top ten trends for 2018, with “Mindful Choices” revealed as the top food trend for 2018. The increasingly thoughtful and mindful consumer will continue to catalyze changes in the way that companies produce, package and label their products. The other element driving the “mindful choice” trend is about peace of mind while making a positive impact in the world, through ethical claims. In fact, there has been a +44 percent CAGR in ethical claims (2010-2016, global), which includes ethical animal/human/environment, excluding ethical packaging.

Click to EnlargeThe CAGR percentage for new product launches with a clean label claim by region (2011-2015) was led by Latin America +37 percent, Australasia +19 percent, North America +18 percent and Europe +17 percent. Over 5 percent of new global product launches in 2016 featured GMO-free claims, a +3.5 percent increase from 2011 when 1.8 percent was reported. A new breed of clean label claims is also coming to the fore, with, for example, a CAGR percent of +74 percent for grass-fed claims from 2011-2016. 

According to research conducted by Kerry, the most common product attributes that consumers associate with clean label, are “all-natural,” “non-GMO” and “no additives or preservatives.” The study included the results of a survey conducted among more than 2,600 respondents across the US, UK, France and Germany, with the recent results focusing on US respondents. 

The survey itself was around clean label and to better understand what consumers are looking for in terms of clean label produce. Out of 53 percent of American consumers who read labels and who are aware of clean labels, 9 in ten of those consumers are conscious of the label and actually willing to pay more for clean label products.

With 53 percent of people claiming to have a general idea of what clean label is and 35 percent feel as though they have a pretty good understanding of what clean label means, they are seeing a specific understanding of what clean label is and what they are looking for. While more than half of consumers surveyed reported being familiar with the term “clean label,” just 38 percent indicated a strong understanding of its definition. 

Respondents connected product attributes ranging from “farm grown” to “sustainably produced” to “minimally processed” and “made with real ingredients” to “clean label,” demonstrating what a truly multidimensional opportunity it is for food manufacturers and brands. Even though “natural” is what people perceive as being clean label, non-GMO, organic, free-from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives are also what clean label can mean. Click to Enlarge

Speaking during a live Q&A in a webinar yesterday, Joseph Borchardt (pictured), Strategic Marketing Director, Kerry, who has been leading out Kerry’s efforts in the clean label space, working with the KHNI team and all of Kerry’s businesses across North America. “When we looked into the research there were two things that really stood out for us, the first was how we deliver sweetness in a clean label format. Consumers have certain opinions around sweeteners, and delivering that in a label-friendly format that is something that will be big into 2018 and beyond.”

“Beyond that and beyond ingredients is that whole concept of how food is processed – consumers are getting more information on how their food is made and this is driving the clean label trend going forward,” he says. 

Also speaking during the webinar was Nathan Pratt Ph.D., RD, an RD&A Scientist, focused on Nutrition. He joined Kerry’s nutrition team in 2016 and is responsible for supporting internal and external scientific communications.

When asked why it takes so long to clean up labels, Pratt replied: “The first issue is food safety above all else. When food reaches the consumers it must not be harmful to them, but you also have to consider other functionalities, such as mouthfeel and shelf-life. It’s not as easy as just taking out and ingredients and making it clean label – you have to think about all those things,” he explains.  

“There are a lot of hurdles and that is why not all products are clean – it does take a lot of time and effort to get it right,” he adds. 

During the webinar, there were concerns raised about the definition of clean label. When asked about the clear association between sustainability and clean label, Borchardt said: “There isn’t a real definition of clean label around the world because it can mean so many things. What we do know is that claims around natural are key, there is no clear definition, but it means a multitude of things.”

“During the study, we also found that consumers were concerned about the food was made, consumers want to know where their food comes from and whether it was ethically sourced and also the packing as well which play a significant role for consumers. We also went on to investigate food waste and other topics,” he explained. 

One concern that was raised during the webinar was the issue around food supply and population growth. With the population set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, can the demand for natural and clean label produce really be met, particularly with finite resources of certain raw materials. 

“I don’t think the idea of consumers wanting to know what in their food will be going anywhere anytime soon, as far as it goes for feeding the increased world population, we have to respond to a lot of trends that are happening in the food industry right now. Take plant-based protein and natural sweeteners, for example, these are things are more sustainable to the clean label movement,” explains Borchardt. 

“Over the course of the clean label journey we hope that we are doing the right things,” adds Pratt.

Borchardt commented further: “The big issue that the food industry is dealing with every day is feeding the world population. One of the things that we have been working on is working with flipping the best resources and we are seeing that on a much bigger scale in the food industry as a whole. As an industry, we need better collaboration to make that happen successfully. But we are confident that clean label is certainly here to stay.”

You can listen to the webinar here

By Elizabeth Green

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