An inconvenient truth: “clean label” products are not always the top sellers
Are American consumers fast turning away from “more-processed” foods?
You would be forgiven for thinking so.
America has got “clean label fever”, with a host of webinars, conferences and trade journal articles claiming that the defining feature of 2015 is the rush by manufacturers to reformulate their products with fewer and simpler ingredients and respond to consumers’ desire for foods that are “less processed”.
At a consumer analyst conference in New York, CEOs of leading food and beverage companies all spoke of how their companies understood consumer demand for products with simple ingredients.
As one CEO summarised it: “We see and understand that food preferences are changing. People want natural foods with simpler ingredients.”
One firm of market researchers has written: “Within the food sector there is a growing back-to-basics attitude. Consumers and manufacturers alike are gravitating toward ‘less processed’ foods made from easy-to-understand ingredients.”
But if you think that means that products with fewer and simpler ingredients are rapidly becoming top-sellers – think again.
Chicago-based IRI (IRIworldwide.com ) uses supermarket scanning data to identify the most successful new product launches in America each year. The results are collated in IRI’s New Product Pacesetters report:
- the recently-published report for 2014 includes seven foods and beverages in the Top-10 ‘most successful’ new products, their sales totaling $669.8 million.
- IRI also identifies 10 “rising stars” – ranging from a new flavour of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Dole salad kits to Cheerios with protein, gelato and a kombucha drink.
It’s worth pausing for a few minutes to reflect that:
- America’s most-successful food and beverage products of 2014 have an average of 20 ingredients.
- America’s most-successful new brand, with $143 million in year 1 sales – Mondelez’s Lunchables Uploaded – has over 60 ingredients.
- The ingredients lists of many of the top-sellers includes such consumer-friendly terms as: sodium diacetate, high fructose corn syrup and high oleic palm oil
Of the 10 “rising stars”:
- there is an average of 25 ingredients in each product (note that this average is pulled down by the presence in the list of GT’s organic raw kombucha, with just 3 ingredients).
- one product has over 50 ingredients.
It’s true that a significant number of American consumers want fewer and simpler ingredients in the products they buy.
They want foods to be “less-processed”.
But the majority of people aren’t there yet – or they aren’t being completely honest when faced with a market researcher.
They are still prioritizing taste, convenience and price over “clean label” and least-processed. The sales figures show it.
In time the majority will take on the habits of the minority. But we are maybe still 10 years away from that point. Until then, don’t bet the farm on consumers rewarding you with more sales just because you have a short ingredient list.
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