According to a recent study by Canadean, companies who are embracing clean labeling may not be getting the consumer buy-in they hoped for. Melanie Felgate, senior consumer insight analyst for Canadean, says the term “clean label” means different things to different consumers around the world. The study found 34 percent of consumers do not actually have any understanding of what it means at all.
Felgate explains it’s more of an industry term used to reflect the growing shift in consumer mindset towards products that are “cleaner” in terms of their ingredients or production methods. For example, removing high fructose corn syrup or aspartame from products. She says the movement continues to grow as consumers call for the removal of artificial ingredients in their foods and transition to more natural foods, or more “clean eating.”
“Over the last two to three years, the ‘diet’ mentality has shifted from dropping a dress size to living a healthy and happy lifestyle; as such the term ‘diet’ in itself has almost become a dirty word juxtaposed to the clean eating movement,” explains Felgate. “It is this consumer mindset that has inspired launches from brands such as Cola-Cola, which strike a balance between being lower calorie, but also more natural.”
The clean label movement, continues Felgate, has yet to reach its tipping point. “Over the next few years we will see even greater innovation in the clean space as ideals move from ‘nice to have’ into an expectation.”
Today there is a battle among states as well as the federal level to mandate GMO (genetically-modified organism) labeling. With no consensus on what information the label should contain, it is unclear as to what other claims the label would include such as hormone- or pesticide-free. So, would the label then be considered a clean label?
Felgate responds that there is no single definition of what constitutes a clean label. For example, a gluten-free product may be clean to one consumer but a non-organic gluten-free product may not be considered clean by another consumer. “Until there is a widespread understanding of what ‘clean’ really means, it would be difficult to have a single label, and it would likely cause a lot more confusion than just calling out single benefits of a product. “ Felgate cautions however, that one uniform label would cause too much confusion among consumers.
Maybe a more pressing question is will consumers pay more for clean label products? The study reveals that the majority of U.S. consumers, 69 percent, would not pay more than the price of a regular product for a product with a “clean label” claim. Just 7 percent of consumers would be willing to pay more than 5 percent more for a product with a clean label claim.
“This reluctance to pay more for clean label stems partly from lack of understanding as to what the term means, but also perhaps indicates that consumers believe the ideals of clean labeling should be inherent in a product, and not something you have to pay more to get,” says Felgate.
An effective clean label is one that focuses on one or two key benefits, rather than claiming to be all things to everybody, a tactic many companies are taking. Felgate says many companies slap on claims such as “gluten-free” when the product never contained gluten in the first place. This, she says, over complicates things.
There are several companies the study found to be embracing the clean labeling trend and doing it well. Caribou Coffee and Mars are the most recent players to announce the removal of all artificial flavorings and colors from food and drink products. Some examples of effective clean labels include U.S.-based Suja Juice who makes use of their labels by calling out the key benefit of each product in bold. Another company getting it right is U.K.-based Kind Snacks whose message focuses on “Ingredients You Can See and Pronounce.”