Clean Label Study Warns Brands to Rethink Strategies

March 12th, 2018


Category: Miscellaneous

(FoodDive) – A new joint study from Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB) and the Food Marketing Institute warns retailers and food manufacturers to rethink how they present clean label products, according to a company release.

The report, called The Clean Label Phenomenon for Food Retailers: Enhancing Transparency for Consumers, explores what consumers think about clean labels, and offers 10 recommendations for brands. The suggestions include embracing consumer insights, engaging suppliers, customizing strategies, targeting competitive advantages, avoiding the impression that non-clean-label items are bad and emphasizing ethical practices.

“Above all, it’s about communicating positive product attributes, like organic or GMO-free, and the real stories behind the products to drive sales and confidence without bombarding people with too much information,” said Kieran Forsey, CEO and co-founder of S4RB.

Dive Insight:

The clean label movement is something of a gray area for food manufacturers, retailers and consumers. There is no one definition of the term, resulting in confusion. As this study points out, there is room for improvement to help consumers better understand what each brand stands for when it comes to clean labels.

This report is well timed, as clean labels are a strong and growing trend in the food space. According to FMI’s 2017 Grocery Shopper Trends, 65% of shoppers seek to avoid ingredients like salt, sugar and antibiotics, while 59% look for minimal processing claims like “no artificial preservatives” and “non-GMO.” Consumers also want to know what “natural” means and what cage-free actually entails.

Many retailers are embracing this trend, especially with private label brands. However, there are a number of problems that go along with it. The first is the lack of definition of the term “clean label.”

In addition, consumers want greater transparency, but a simpler list of ingredients. Different generations of shoppers also want different qualities in their clean labels. For grocers that are embracing free-from modifications to their private label brands, they risk making their traditional or unaltered products look “dirty” by comparison.

Retailers and manufacturers can tackle some of these issues by trying to be as transparent as possible when it comes to their interpretation of clean label. For some, it may just be listing ingredients as non-GMO. For others, it could be listing where a fish was caught, how it was transported and how long it has been at the grocery store on a SmartLabel.

Food manufacturers in the U.S. could also learn from their European counterparts when it comes to clean labels. In 2013, an average of 27% of all new product launches in packaged food were clean label, according to the report. Private brands also make up a much larger share of sales in Europe than in the U.S., with many retailers using that platform as a way to update to clean labels.


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