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This year, the Hi Conference will focus on four key themes that we believe will be influencing the F&B industry in 2018: Focus on Functional; Personalising Nutrition; Clean, Natural & Transparent; Reduce, Remove & Reformulate.
The series of articles highlighting the health trends continues by looking in more detail at the developments within clean label, natural ingredients and supply chain transparency. Of interest in particular is the growing need to bridge the gap between what consumers are looking for and what the industry defines as clean label or natural.
Clean label continues to dominate
Clean label as a standalone trend was not so visible in many of the trend reports this year, suggesting that Innova Market Insights’ claim that it is now a rule rather than a trend is truer than ever. This does not make it any less important for ingredients and finished product manufacturers to consider, as the demand for clean label products continues to grow. Data from Mintel shows a 4% increase of new product launches which hold a ‘clean label’ claim (such as ‘no additives/ preservatives’, ‘all natural’ or ‘GMO Free’) in 2017 compared to 2016.
However, according to innovation specialist, Sophia Nadur, there is a disconnect between what consumers are looking for and what is actually available when it comes to clean label. This is one of the biggest challenges for the industry: understanding exactly how consumers define ‘clean label’ and developing products accordingly. Another challenge from a technical perspective, is reformulating products to meet this trend whilst still maintaining good taste and long shelf life.
More specific claims for natural products
Whilst there is still no official definition for ‘natural’, consumer demand for natural products is still high. According to Mintel research, in a 2016 study 50% of US consumers say that natural is the most important claim for them when shopping for food. In a 2017 study, 72% of Spanish consumers prefer the health-promoting benefits of natural foods (e.g. fruit and vegetables) over the added benefits of functional foods. After expiration dates, natural or organic designations are one of the most important front-of-pack claims for US shoppers. This is particularly true among Millennials. That being said, ‘all natural’ claims are declining, showing that consumers are looking for more specific claims such as ‘no additives/ preservatives’. These claims will continue shaping new product development.
Trust and transparency is now the focus
Linked to the increased demand for clean label, is the need for transparency from the F&B industry. This is required across the whole value chain. According to Mintel, widespread distrust has increased the need for food and drink manufacturers to be forthcoming about their ingredients, production processes, and supply chains. For F&B companies now, simply listing ‘clean’ ingredients is no longer enough to convince consumers of clean label credentials. Ingredients lists need to be clearly visible, along with information about the origins of the content.
The reasons for greater transparency are twofold. Following numerous food safety scandals in recent years (most recently, the egg scandal that hit the Netherlands last summer) consumers are becoming warier of the quality of the food they are consuming. Transparency from farm to fork is the clearest way of regaining consumer trust, and the implementation of technologies such as blockchain are supporting the food industry in fighting food fraud. Companies such as Nestle, Unilever and Walmart are already looking to incorporate blockchain technology to ensure transparency across their supply chains.
In addition to this, there is a growing awareness among consumers of their environmental impact. They are increasingly looking to make more sustainable food choices which has led to an increase in demand for ethical claims such as ‘Eco Friendly’. In 2017 there were around 63,000 products launched globally with some sort of ethical claim. F&B companies who are clear about their ethical credentials are likely to win out, particularly among Millennials.
It seems the demand for clean label products and transparency will not be waning any time soon, and this is likely to drive innovation within the food industry. As technology develops there are likely to be more solutions, such as blockchain in the short term and DNA barcoding in the future, available to support the F&B industry in tackling the issue of consumer trust.
 From Mintel presentation ‘On-pack Natural Claims’
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