This year, the Chicago Section IFT Symposium and Suppliers’ Night focused entirely on the hot topic of Clean Labels. During one popular session, a moderator asked a panel of consumers several questions regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) undefined term, “clean label,” and marketing claims surrounding the term such as natural, which has also not been defined by the FDA. Research from Mintel was presented demonstrating how claims like, “no additives,” “no preservatives” or “non-GMO,” are becoming more commonplace. Below are four key takeaways our experts found most valuable from Chicago IFT 2017.
1) Natural: The term “natural” is still undefined by the FDA, but it is commonly listed on food and beverage packaging. At IFT, the session, “Consumer Panel: What does Clean Label Mean,” featured a group of four individuals over the age of 35 and three individuals under the age of 35, voicing their thoughts on whether or not the term “natural” suggests a product includes preservatives or additives. The group opinion was that the ingredient list on a clean label should be simple and readable, and the group agreed that the specific type of food or beverage item determines whether they expect it to be “natural.” A few panelists mentioned that when they follow cravings or indulge in guilty pleasures they do not tend to look for a natural product. The consumer panel also discussed the term, “organic” as being a subset of the overall category of “natural” foods and some panelists indicated that they do not purchase organic items because of the higher cost and little to no difference in taste.
2) Opinion of the Food Industry: The consumer panel was also asked to share their overall impression of the food industry with the audience. A few mentioned they think of the industry as a business focused on making money, while others noted the need for more public education surrounding specific ingredients and the need for those ingredients to be added to certain products. Interestingly, the panel found itself divided over private label vs brand name products. Some panelists, under the age of 35, said they perceive branded products to be of a higher quality than private brands. Most panelists age 35 and over said they are not loyal to any specific brand and tend to take into consideration the cost, ingredients and nutrient values when purchasing a product.
3) Claims and Romance Text: Many food manufacturers and retailers use claims and romance text to market foods and beverages. “Free from” claims are commonly used by manufacturers to point out an ingredient the product does not contain. Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation and Insights at Mintel, presented a session titled, “Clean Label: Why This Trend is Important Now.” She believes more clean labels in the future will include “free from” claims because it allows manufacturers to be transparent and show which ingredients are not present in a product. A large part of the clean label trend emphasizes what is not in a product. Dornblaser also shared Mintel’s findings that “natural claims” are becoming less popular on products while “GMO Free,” “no additives,” “no preservatives” and “organic” are increasing in popularity within the marketplace.
4) Transparency: The call for transparency has been a popular trend, started by consumers who want to know what is in the food they are eating. The food industry is becoming more transparent, with manufacturers showing the processing of the product on their website or even directly on the food package. Promoting simple ingredients to consumers is another way food manufacturers and retailers can be more open in regards to what exactly is in their food product.
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Meet the Author
Sophie Plummer, RD
Associate Nutrition Program Manager, Mérieux NutriSciences
Sophie Plummer is the Associate Nutrition Program Manager at Mérieux NutriSciences. She received her Bachelor of Sciences in Applied Health Science, Dietetics from Indiana University. Sophie received her MBA from Dominican University. In her free time, she enjoys cooking for friends and family as well as playing with her goldendoodle.