March 30, 2015

Boomers, Millennials, Gen Z. Across generations and demographics, there’s no doubt of the collective shift in attitude people are demonstrating when it comes to healthy lifestyle choices. Consumers are increasingly drawn to products that can equip them with what they need to live healthier, fuller, longer lives. And more and more, we’re seeing that when it comes to food purchases and nutrition labels, consumers want it one way: Clean.

Can we blame them? With factory fear borne of product recalls, allergy scares, and harmful additives present in many foods on today’s store shelves, consumers are seeking food information that tells it like it is. What’s more Twenty-two percent of US grocery consumers would like to see improved labeling on packaging to help them easily identify healthier food products, and less than 38 percent trust what companies say on labels, according to Mintel’s Global Consumer Trends for 2015.

Enter the “clean label.”

More than an industry term, clean label refers to consumers’ desire for straightforward food labeling that lists exactly which ingredients are and are not in the product. In fact, while most consumers feel packaging nutritional information is important, more than a third of consumers (37 percent), are confused by claims on their food packaging, according to “Clean Label Is The New Natural” by Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel and David Jago, Director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel.

Unlike terms such as “organic” and “natural” a definition for “clean label” is not a legal definition, but one that caters to and, to a large extent has been determined by, consumers, says Jim Lucas, EVP of Global Insight and Strategy at Anthem.

The clean labeling concept has gained traction in recent years, as consumers’ need for better transparency has grown and is unlikely to fade given the FDA’s upcoming nutrition label regulation. But what does clean really mean? And how might clean labels on packaging help build deeper, trust-based relationships with consumers?

A clean label gives consumers a clear, complete and accurate depiction of the product they are considering purchasing, according to Lucas. “Marketers can strengthen relationships with consumers by using clean labels to list simple, familiar ingredients in an accessible way,” he adds.

A clean label can incorporate several consumer-friendly themes, but there are key components we’ve seen successfully can be applied across product lines in the food and beverage category by brands and retailers. Here are four ingredients that make a clean label:

1. Accessibility. Plain and simple, people are trying to figure out what they are eating. Yet on the whole, brands and retailers have not provided them with information that is easy to understand and readily accessible. Where packaging is concerned, a clean label should be easy to find, read and doesn’t require the use of additional resources to decipher its contents. A look at the marketplace suggests that a few brands have taken advantage of this current situation and are building trust and their brand’s reputation. Family-owned U.S. supermarket chain, Wegmans, voluntarily participates in the Facts Up Front initiative and presents key data points, such as calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars, on the front of their packages in a larger, easy to read format. A host of other well-known companies have also implemented Facts Up Front on their branded products, private label products or store brands.

2. Transparency. This is about putting your relationship with your shoppers and consumers first and “owning” it, for better or for worse. It’s an opportunity to do something refreshing and different, while providing shoppers and consumers with the information that they need. If your product includes an ingredient that is not quite good for you, such as added sugar, include that on your packaging and explain why it’s there. If you can do this right, you will gain consumers’ trust will gain ground on your competition. “Remember, it’s not just about compliance. It’s about finding opportunities to pay it forward, not because you’re mandated to, but because it is what’s best for the consumer,” says Lucas.

3. Simplicity. Consumers these days crave simplicity. They are inclined to purchase products that contain 100% natural, traditional, familiar ingredients. Marketers can expect consumers to buy not just based on what isn’t in a product, but what IS in the product. In this regard, Naked Juice got it right several years ago with labels that include straightforward messaging such as “5 Blackberries, 4 Raspberries, ½ Banana,” along with simple graphics of the ingredients on the list. Along with that, they include an ingredients list that doesn’t undercut the messaging in any way. In this instance, the use of familiar, traditional ingredients has appealed to consumers’ need for simplicity in the food products they purchase.

4. Fewer villainous ingredients. Of course consumers want foods that are simple, natural, organic – the fewer harmful, villainous ingredients in your products, the better. This has become one of the key ways consumers evaluate food and beverage products. Retailers too, have taken a lead role in clean packaging, especially with their refrigerated and frozen foods. A great example is Kroger’s Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic “Free from 101” lines, where all products marked with the “Free from 101” label are literally free from 101 ingredients that customers have told Kroger they don’t want in their food. Other private label brands have developed logos to highlight good aspects of foods that may not be known to have the perfect nutritional profile.

As companies experiment with new and engaging ways to incorporate clean labels onto their packaging, it’s evident that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “You don’t have to be perfect to make a lasting impact on shoppers and consumers,” says Lucas. “But you do have to make it clear to consumers that you have their best interests at heart and that you are using this opportunity to reconcile and refocus on a more meaningful relationship with them,” he added.

Don’t miss out on an incredible opportunity to strengthen your brand and create more meaningful consumer relationships while addressing the FDA’s proposed food labeling regulations. Are you prepared? For expert advice on where to start, visit Schawk’s Label Central.