Why We Need Clean Labels
It’s not just snack bars that use their natural, healthy ingredients as a point of packaging differentiation. Big consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies including Campbell’s Soup, Kellogg and Nestle are bringing healthy ingredients front and center on packaging, creating entire product lines around consumers’ desire for healthier food products. Industry trade news site Food Business News named the “clean label” trend as its 2015 trend of the year, and the trend is still rising.
Per Food Business News, three-fourths of U.S. consumers claim they read nutritional and ingredient labels on the products they buy. Consumers chiefly want those labels to include recognizable ingredients—nuts, dairy, real fruit, and as few weird chemical additives, dyes, extra sodium or sweeteners as possible without totally sacrificing taste and shelf life. Other ingredient concerns include GMOs (genetically modified organisms); pesticides; hormones; and antibiotics. Concern about specific ingredients does vary by age group, so it’s worth researching target audiences to learn more. We could spend another several days discussing the issue of portion control as it relates to how CPGs are packaged. It’s safe to say that we’ve become aware of the toxicity of much of the packaged food we eat daily, and how it may be contributing to America’s obesity epidemic, the rise of diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues.*
Natural, Organic and Healthy
Consumer interest in health plus convenience has thrown the CPG industry into a tizzy, as they struggle to develop products that health-minded consumers will actually buy. Consumers are wary of healthy claims on packaging, and the media has repeatedly called out brands for using unclear or plainly misleading organic, natural and low-fat/low-sugar claims. Other unregulated terms like “artisan,” “clean,” “earth-friendly,” “local,” “pure” and “simple,” have been popping up on packaging as the organic/natural trend has swelled to nearly 15 percent of total food sales. Packaged goods manufacturers must tread carefully to avoid the unhealthy publicity of making false or misleading claims about their products.
Another driver of CPG’s packaging and product innovation shift is Millennial shoppers’ (34 percent of 18-34 year-olds) predominant pattern of “shopping the periphery” of grocery stores, where they find fresh produce, meats and dairy products. Typically, packaged goods are in the center aisles of most groceries. CPG brands hope new products focused on interest in organic and natural foods, and greater attention to ingredients and sourcing will attract this audience. A related trend is expanded “health food” aisles aimed at vegans and ingredient-conscious shoppers.
Online fresh food services like HelloFresh and BlueApron are further fueling consumer expectations for better ingredients and fewer additives. As younger consumers abandon fast food and take-out in favor of fresh meals prepared at home, packaged goods manufacturers must rethink everything from brand strategy and offerings, to package design and shelf location, to address more skeptical, better informed shoppers.
It’s “Clean,” But Not Clear
Yet, a recent survey indicates that the term “clean label” doesn’t mean the same thing to all consumers. There are no standards for what the term should indicate (Natural ingredients? Sustainable sourcing? Pesticide-free?), making the trend mostly about repositioning to appeal to health-conscious shoppers. Also, most consumers say they are unwilling to pay a premium price just to buy “clean” products; consumers increasingly feel “clean” should be an embedded trait, not a bonus feature they must pay extra to get.
Ad agencies involved in food package design have an opportunity to help clients position their products to catch the rising interest in unadulterated, healthier food choices. Watch for start-ups who are innovating in the natural and organic foods category. Read up on consumer trends in healthier lifestyles ands and eating habits. And bring your designers’ skills to bear on finding ways to make products stand out in the best ways—by delivering clear labeling and visual style to an expanding sector of the CPG world.
It’s Not Just Food
By the way, clean labels are becoming a trend in other categories. Australia’s Aesop, a personal care manufacturer and seller, is just one brand introducing products labeled with simplicity and a focus on ingredients and effectiveness. Aesop joins more established U.S. “clean beauty” brands like Honest, Goop and Credo.