IFT 2016 in review

Meeting consumer demand for ‘simple’ isn’t as simple as it appears, but it is possible, Mintel says

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Consumers increasingly are seeking products that they are simple, with ingredients that they can pronounce, benefits that thy understand and minimal processing, but as a leading Mintel analyst noted at IFT’s Food Expo in Chicago “simple” isn’t always so simple from a manufacturing perspective.

“A trend that we have definitely seen across areas of consumers’ lives is [they are] looking for and seeking out balance – really looking for products that make their lives simpler and easier,” said Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst with Mintel International Group.

She explained that in food and beverage this translates to consumers cutting out ingredients, entire food groups or macro-nutrients, and everything that they don’t understand on the assumption that if they don’t know what it is or how to say it then they don’t need it.

Specifically, she said, 36% of consumers have cut out certain foods or ingredients from their diets on the basis that “when it comes to ingredients, sometimes the easiest way is to just eliminate things or look for simple or clean labels or ingredients you can recognize and understand. So, really, when it comes to ingredients really looking for less is a common theme.”

For example, 55% of consumers using cooking sauces, pasta sauces or marinades say they look for products made with simple or minimal ingredients, Mattuci said pointing to Mintel data. She also noted that 55% of private label consumers say they pay more for a store brand with simple ingredients and 52% say that they look for products with minimal ingredients.

This theme also is playing out in the condiment and dressing categories with 80% of US consumers saying they wish they had simple or minimal ingredients, she added.

What is driving consumer desire for simple?

Concern about food safety and the constant stream of recalls due to contamination, undeclared allergens or labeling mix-ups during manufacturing is one of the major drivers behind consumer desire for simpler, cleaner products, Mattucci said.

Citing Mintel data, she noted that 53% of consumers say they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in their food and 59% say that the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is for you.

“Another concerning statistic for the food industry is 71% of US consumers agree that there are probably more harmful or excessive ingredients in foods than manufacturers are telling us, so there is a lot of skepticism,” she said.

How are manufacturers responding?

But when it comes to responding to consumers’ evolving demands, many manufacturers are struggling because “as every food scientist knows, simple isn’t as simple as it looks,” Mattucci said.

With this in mind, manufacturers are tackling the topic by eliminating the most chemical-sounding ingredients, which often include additives and preservatives, she said. Manufacturers also are embracing claims and attributes that give the impression of natural, less processed foods.

As a result, products labeled as organic have increased – going from only 6% five years ago, to 14% of products recently, Mattucci said. Likewise, manufacturers are embracing GMO-free claims, which have increased by more than five times in as many years from appearing on 3% of products to now appearing on 17% of the products in the last five months, she added.

Perhaps the most successful claim in this space, however, is “no added preservatives” which now appears on 21% of products launched in the US, she said.

These claims resonate well with consumers because many shoppers have given up keeping track of what they are not supposed to eat, and instead are focusing on ingredients they already know and recognize “as a way to cut through that noise and really simplify that information that they are seeking,” Mattucci said.

While reformulating products to align with these new values may be difficult, they are worth it in terms of sales, Mattucci said, noting 37% of US consumers agree that products with free-from claims are worth paying more to buy.

The future remains bright for clean, simple products

Looking forward, Mattucci does not see this trend cooling any time soon.

“I think we will continue to see that interest in transparency and clean label and simple ingredients continuing to grow,” and even overtake the impact of natural claims, she said.

“We have seen all-natural claims declining over time, but things like no additives or preservatives really speak to that ‘real food movement,’ and interest in less-processed foods that certainly is exploring and continuing to grow,” she added, noting that clean labels will be the new norm.

Beyond reformulating products, Mattucci recommended manufacturers address consumers concerns in this area by providing more details about how their products are made either through stories on the backs of packages or with QR codes on packs that direct consumers to more information online. 

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