Keeping Up With Clean: Consumers Drive Brands in the Food Industry

April 25, 2016

By Allison Ames

Keeping Up With Clean: Consumers Drive Brands in the Food Industry

It goes without saying that the needs of consumers and the roles that brands play to satisfy those needs intersect. Socially conscious consumerism is placing more and more demands on brands in all corners of business. Consumers want products and services produced responsibly.  This is particularly evident in the food industry, primarily driven by the “clean label movement.”  Influenced by the desire for trusted and recognizable ingredients in food products, “healthy” means so much more to today’s educated consumer. Now, the relationship between consumer needs and brands hinges on a critical value: transparency.

The clean label movement, simplifying ingredient lists to make them more understandable, is a trend that’s here to stay and it’s forcing brands, large and small, to get on board with the help of advanced technology. The emergence of SmartLabel technology will transform our shopping habits and soon give consumers instant access to detailed product ingredient information with a simple scan on their smartphone. The Grocery Manufacturers Association predicts 80% of packaged groceries will feature SmartLabel technology within five years, providing detail for as many as 350 attributes including animal welfare information, and health and sustainability claims. Hershey’s was the first to test the technology by adding SmartLabel QR codes to their Kisses and Milk Chocolate Bars that were introduced during the 2015 holiday season. In addition to adding QR codes to their chocolates, Hershey’s announced that it would focus on using well-known and simpler ingredients like milk from local farms and California almonds. A spokesperson for Hershey’s “commitment to clean” summed it up nicely, “The relationship between people and their food has changed dramatically over the past few decades. People want to see ingredients that they are familiar with in their foods and we’re listening.” It’s clear that consumer needs are changing and their power to influence brands to respond in a responsible way is shifting the paradigm of social responsibility.

Food transparency is going mainstream. With food information going so far as to even provide animal welfare details, a recent episode in the comedy seriesPortlandia satires the conscious tastes of Millennials in a scene where two 20-something hipsters travel to investigate the farm where their chicken dinner was raised. The world is certainly changing. Suffice it to say, this transparency trend is not just Millennial-driven, it is crossing generations. As the Internet of Things continues to pair data and information with consumer products, all generations are growing more conscious of what they eat and buy based on different needs and life stages. Millennials and Generation Z want more socially-conscious products, while the aging Baby Boomer generation is focusing more on health and wellness information, all of which are converging to supercharge the movement toward clean food.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that smart labels means smart brands and, in turn, loyal consumers. Witness Kraft. After the company quietly removed artificial flavors, dyes and preservatives from its beloved Macaroni & Cheese recipe, 80 million boxes were sold in the weeks after the announcement.  As big brands become converts and elevate their social consciousness, partnerships between food brands and prospective licensees will become more important than ever. The bar has now been raised.  Finding the right partners that share the same ethos on clean labeling will be the new normal to responsibly engage and retain consumers in order to preserve brand trust and loyalty.  Consumers clearly have a taste for clean and I’m sure we will continue to see a structural change in the food industry as brands continue to provide better and instant information and embrace this new socially-conscious consumerism.