Tracking clean label trends across the globe

FEATURED SPEAKER Fi Conference 2019
Clean labels are more important than ever to today’s health-conscious and ingredient-savvy shoppers, but F&B manufacturers have to navigate regional and country specific differences in consumer preferences, as well as differences across different applications. Constantin Drapatz, Senior Marketing Manager for Clean and Simple Food at Ingredion, explains how Ingredion’s ATLAS research, which has been tracking the opinions of over 30,000 respondents globally since January 2011 and spans 36 countries, ensures that F&B manufacturers stay at the forefront of the clean label movement in every market segment.

Constantin Drapatz

How would you define clean label? Have the expectations from consumers on clean label products changed over time?
“Clean label is more than a passing trend - it is an enduring movement that continues to shape and drive the food and beverage industry and is now front of mind for today’s modern consumer. Since Ingredion experts helped identify the clean label trend in its infancy over 20 years ago with the launch of the NOVATION® functional native starches, we have continued to drive innovation and gather insights from both consumers and manufacturers.”

“The industry faces challenges in providing consistent messaging to manufacturers and consumers alike. Using our extensive research combining regulatory, consumer and manufacturers’ insights, our experts have developed a best practice definition to assist customers and help define what consumers expect from the clean label food products they seek on the shelves.”

“Clean label food products are those which are:

•           Made only with ingredients which are recognised and accepted by consumers

•           ‘Free-from’ ingredients which sound artificial or misleading

•           Consistent with consumers’ understanding of on-pack claims”

You have conducted your own consumer research on clean label, could you explain its scope?
“ATLAS is Ingredion’s Proprietary Consumer Research that has tracked the opinions of over 30,000 respondents globally since January 2011. The online study looks at consumers’ attitudes towards foods and beverages, including preferred label claims, key purchase drivers and awareness, and acceptance of various ingredients. These insights are helping customers respond to the clean and simple trend and guiding manufacturers on the most and least attractive ingredient options, covering 36 countries and 14 applications.”

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What were the main conclusions from this study?
“Food labels are more important than ever to today’s health-conscious and ingredient-savvy shoppers, but now the emphasis has shifted from what has been removed, to what is being added to products. Consumers find it increasingly important to recognize the ingredients used in their food and drinks. This shift in attitude may seem subtle, but it is important and is something that manufacturers need to consider.”

“Insights from Ingredion’s seventh wave of global clean label consumer research around food and beverages revealed that ingredients lists (76%) and ‘no additives’ (71%) were the top two drivers of purchase. Alongside this, ‘country of origin’ is becoming more important as interest in production methods and source of food continues to rise.”

“Consumers are demanding greater transparency from the food industry because they want to understand what goes into food and how it is made. Their motivations for doing this vary from concerns over ingredient origin and the use of additives to environmental impact and production methods.”

“Alongside increasing demand for clean label products, consumers are changing the types of food they want and how and when they choose to eat them. Examples include snacks and desserts, which were traditionally seen as outside clean label application. This is broadening the demand for clean and simple labels across a wider range of applications and production processes than ever before. A key factor in achieving this is continuous innovation in the performance and functionality of specialty clean label ingredients.”

How many ingredients have you tested? Are the results similar across different regions in terms of consumer acceptance?
“We have surveyed more than 60 different ingredients, ranging from starch-based texturisers, hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, and sweeteners to flavours and colours. The most recent wave revealed global alignment for particular ingredient acceptability, such as natural colours or flours, however there are a lot of regional and country-specific differences to consider. For example, consumers in Europe may accept particular ingredients, whereas the rest of the world list soy protein and whey protein among their most accepted ingredients.”

“Differences are also apparent across different applications. Consumers might accept an ingredient in a non-dairy yoghurt in Germany, but will not accept the same ingredient in a savoury sauce. It is that level of detail that can make all the difference to a manufacturer, providing not just a clean label product, but one that speaks to their local consumer. For a global manufacturer it also provides valuable insights when working on a recipe that is supposed to be launched across multiple countries or continents.”

How can companies benefit from this study? How do you use it in your day-to-day business?
“Our ongoing research gives visibility on how the trend is evolving, which we share with new and existing customers. With these insights, we are able to support food and drink producers on new product development and reformulation projects, helping them to get to market faster with consumer-winning recipes. The depth of the data enables us to guide customers on regional and local differences to consider, as well as the most and least attractive ingredient bases available to them across 36 countries and 14 applications.”

Were there any surprising insights that you discovered from the study?
“Having worked for Ingredion in South Africa for over five years, it was great to see the clean label trend gaining momentum across all income markets. This means that everyone, regardless of disposable income, is now concerned about what they eat and how a product is made.”

“Looking at the global findings, it was also interesting to see the growing acceptability of stevia as a naturally derived sweetener, alongside honey and sugar.”

What are your predictions for the future of the clean label trend?
“There are a lot of nuances to this particular trend, and as it continues to evolve, it will be important to take a more holistic view. It is not just about removing an E-Number from the ingredient list, or using natural imagery or label claims, but extends to total transparency around ingredient provenance, processing and packaging and everything in between.”

“As lifestyles and tastes change, we also expect an accelerated adoption in new regions, such as Africa and South America over the coming years. This will be coupled with an increasing emphasis on clean label in applications that traditionally required ingredients that are not perceived as clean label, such as the bakery segment.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry in the next 3-5 years?
“It’s a really exciting time to be part of the food and drink industry. Digital transformation, advanced in technology and a shift at large FMCGs shows a lot of will to change and embrace the evolving clean label trend.”

“We will also continue to see a rise in the number of consumers opting to follow a flexitarian or vegan diet. The arrival of new start-ups in this space is very exciting, but large manufacturers have also continued to embrace this trend and are formulating products that show you do not have to compromise on product quality when making that lifestyle choice. Texture and taste will always remain key drivers for consumer acceptance and success of a product.”

“A stronger connection between a clean label and the impact on our environment and sustainability will play a much bigger role in the future and companies will need to prepare to show what they do to address these issues.”

Don’t miss Constantin Drapatz’s presentation on ‘What influences consumers to buy into the clean label megatrend?’ at the Fi Conference on 3 December at 11:00.