Challenges and opportunities of all natural trends for food manufacturers

21 May 2018
The food industry is facing a rapid increase in demand for “all natural” food. Consumers increasingly ask for “clean label” food. Food manufacturers respond by changing ingredient names, changing ingredients altogether, looking for alternatives to satisfy the consumer. But the all natural trend offers not just challenges; for the observant food manufacturer, there are also plenty of opportunities.

Clean label: what exactly do consumers demand?

Within the food industry, clean label is a relatively well-known concept. But it is hard to translate to consumer demands, because most of them do not use the term clean label in the same way producers do. They tend to put clean label on par with “natural”, which means so much as being produced with conventional agriculture, to being minimally processed – which includes not using processes the consumer finds unfamiliar – to being GMO-free. Because of food scares, clean label is also about safety: food that is free-from hidden contaminants such as insecticides or heavy metals. All in all, that means clean label seems to have become a blanket term for “anything that seems healthy and safe”.  

Challenges of clean label to food manufacturers

The challenge for food manufacturers lies in aligning their supply and value chain with the shifting consumer expectations about clean label. Consumers are far better informed than they ever were, and have the ability to research appearances: investigating a product, a brand, or a supply chain before purchasing, and exchanging this information with other consumers. If a brand is not transparent, it automatically fosters feelings of distrust, according to 2018 research by Market Intelligence Agency. However, because of the unclear and still shifting definition of clean label, adapting supply and value chains is tricky at best: often, manufacturers run into problems such as expensive alternatives, availability issues, or decreasing shelf-life.

Opportunities of clean label to food manufacturers

Despite the problems of an ever-shifting definition, many brands have already flourished by embracing the successful strategy of always providing proof for clean label claims, and being transparent about the processes and ingredients they use that might be perceived “unnatural” by consumers. The information these brands provide, succeeds in navigating fluctuations in consumer demands, forestalling any unfounded claims that might throw other brands into an alternative-seeking frenzy. Of course, there have also been adaptations made in product ingredients and processes, such as blending antioxidants, finding alternatives such as potato starch, or using vitamin E to increase shelf-life.

How to approach the “all natural” challenge?

On the whole, opportunities still abound for manufacturers to find acceptable, wholesome and scientifically sound product reformulations. If producers are intent on responsibly innovating, are consistently transparent and keep consumers informed, we suspect they will take the sting out of most objections, even if their labels aren’t completely “clean” yet.

Our whitepaper “Green vegan confectionery for all” offers an insight into one possible product reformulation solution. Download the whitepaper to learn more.

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