Last month, General Mills said it would be removing all artificial flavors and colors from its breakfast cereals and replacing them with spices and fruit and vegetable concentrates. This announcement comes on the heels of Nestlé’s statement that they would be replacing artificial flavors and colors in their candy bars, and fast-food chains like Taco Bell and Subway committing to eliminating controversial ingredients from their products. Natural Food Industry Brands are responding to consumer demand for perceived healthier foods and more transparency in labeling.
Consumers are clearly equating cleaner labels and products with fewer ingredients as inherently healthier, and those brands are in prime position to capitalize on consumer interest in health and nutrition. Here, Women’s Marketing takes a look at some of the key “free-from” claims that natural food product brands need to consider to remain competitive.
Consumers perceive foods with a “free-from” claim to be healthier—either for themselves, their families, or for the planet. In fact, more than three quarters of consumers say they are buying “free-from” foods because they are more natural and less processed; 60% of Millennials and 55% of GenX’ers report that they worry about the potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy.
Free-From Additives & Preservatives
It’s no secret that shoppers are researching food additives and preservatives and sharing their findings on social media. These passionate health consumers can influence purchases with a tap of their finger. Consumers appreciate brands in the natural food industry that are transparent with their ingredients and actively make changes to improve their food products. With so many big brand names making alterations in order to remove unwanted artificial ingredients, it is becoming a standard that consumers expect. Natural food products that fail to act progressively and make changes may struggle.
Trans Fat Free
Consumers report that products containing trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils are among their top concerns—in fact, 78% of consumers said it was a priority to avoid foods containing trans-fats. Many forward-thinking brands have already taken steps to remove these ingredients from their products. Those that haven’t will likely lose market share until they re-formulate their natural food products.
Consumers Say No to GMO
Although genetically modified foods and ingredients are meeting regulatory standards, consumers remain skeptical. Among all consumers, foods containing GMO’s provoke the most concern, with 37% of all consumers, and a full 52% of Hispanic consumers reporting that they specifically look for GMO-free claims when shopping. This data suggests that manufacturers of brands in the natural food industry with GM ingredients will face an uphill climb at best.
Nearly one in five consumers, Millennials in particular, would like food packaging to feature a total list of ingredients related to food allergies, and manufacturers focused on food-allergic consumers appear to be meeting those expectations. Consumers are doing their homework, researching natural food products in advance and in-store via smartphones, and expecting proof before purchase.
From Gluten-Free to Casein-Free
The casein-free trend appears to be in its nascent stages, prompted primarily by research which found that peptides from casein and gluten may worsen the symptoms of some neurological syndromes. Brands that clearly label products as casein-free and promote those benefits on social media, blogs, and through marketing messages will begin to drive the casein-free conversation.
Consumers are concerned about the addition of growth hormones in meat and milk products and the effects they can have on children. Additionally, the use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock has fueled speculation that those additives may have contributed to the growth of antibiotic resistant strains of superbugs. Based on consumer demand, fast-food restaurants Panera and Chipotle were early adopters of this trend, and we expect others to follow suit.
Natural Food Products and Your Brand
Overall, consumers perceive foods with any “free-from” claim to be both healthier and less processed, thereby meeting two of the natural food industry’s largest trends head-on. Furthermore, consumers appear to be equating genetic modification, artificial, and unhealthy as one and the same, and those consumers are likely to turn away from product labels with unfamiliar ingredients or ingredients perceived as chemically complex or unnatural. The interest in “real” food appears much more motivating even than the incorporation of healthy ingredients, particularly among Millennials and households with children. The challenge for manufacturers could be creating “free-from” products (particularly those that meet the demand for allergen-free) with cleaner ingredient legends and communicating those values in their marketing messages.
Is your brand ready to be free-from marketing messages that hold back growth? Contact Women’s Marketing to better understand how to reach influential female consumers when and where they are most receptive to your message.