Claiming the right shopper
Bakers stake a claim on packaging that will fit consumers’ attitudes about health and the economy.
BakingBusiness.com, April 1, 2013
by Charlotte Atchley
Food marketers have a plethora of claims and buzzwords they can print on food packaging: natural, gluten-free, kosher, whole grain. Some must meet strict regulations such as high fiber claims, while others like all-natural are more or less a guideline with little to no regulation governing their use. Each assertion can grab a different consumer’s eye and provide a point of differentiation from competitors’ products.

Chris Brockman, global food and drink analyst for Chicago-based research firm Mintel, said the American public is moving away from popular health claims as economic uncertainty has shifted their short-term priorities.

During a 15-year research career, Mr. Brockman has provided insights and consultancy services to many leading global food and drink producers and retailers. As market intelligence manager for a technical food consultancy, he led a team undertaking research on food ingredients sectors and tracking global innovation trends. He also directed a research team at an export market consultancy, identifying international business opportunities with a particular emphasis on emerging markets and devising market entry strategies.

Mr. Brockman offered his experience in global trends and emerging markets in this exclusive Q&A with Baking & Snack.

Charlotte Atchley: In the US bakery market, what claims are most popular on packaging?

Chris Brockman: After kosher and ­environmentally friendly packaging claims, which are increasingly the standard for larger operators, the next most popular claims on new bakery launches in the US are health and wellness related such as low/no/reduced trans fat, no additives or preservatives, or all-natural.

However, these claims have declined in usage in recent years, suggesting they have less impact than they once did. Further, other major health-related claims such as low fat have limited presence in bakery products, and this claim has also seen ­declining usage.

Why has usage of these claims declined?

The poor economic situation in recent years has clearly shifted priorities in the short term. Consumers have sought comfort in small indulgencies such as cakes — cupcake and brownie sales have been buoyant, for example — and have also looked to save money where possible. It is no surprise, therefore, to see that economy claims in new bakery product launch activity have doubled in the 2010 to 2012 period. Seasonal and limited editions have also been increasingly employed by manufacturers looking to pique consumer interest and to encourage trial of new flavors in particular.

The other major shift in the market has been a move toward more positive ­approaches to health by adding healthy ingredients as opposed to the negative language of taking things out. The focus on whole grain has continued in new bakery launches, while there has been a significant jump in the use of high-fiber claims.

What is driving the increase in fiber claims?

Most Americans do not consume enough fiber, and a lack of this key nutrient is contributing to a variety of public health problems, including obesity and cardiovascular disease. Awareness of the health benefits associated with consuming fiber is growing, though, with 81% of respondents in a 2012 Mintel survey recognizing fiber’s importance in maintaining good digestive health. Compounding this is the awareness and selection of products based on the presence of whole grains, one of the richest sources of dietary fiber.

As well as the digestive health benefit of fiber, consumers are more conscious of its satiety benefits, with fiber being increasingly known, along with protein, to keep consumers full and, therefore, helping to control food intake.

How is this trend toward fiber claims affecting bakery products?

In the bread sector, this is translating to the growing influence of high-fiber content on purchasing. In 2012, 46% of respondents were influenced by a high-fiber claim in every or most bread purchases, with only 25% never influenced by the claim. A further 31% were influenced by a high-protein claim in ­every or most bread purchases.

In the prepared cakes segment, meanwhile, half of respondents say that products that are high in fiber are important to them, making it the leading attribute of importance, and nearly half say that products with whole grains are important. In such indulgent product categories, providing some component of a daily nutritional value, such as fiber or protein, or some value-added aspect, such as extra vitamins, can counterbalance the sugar and fat content in a given item.

What pitfalls exist for bakers when making claims on packaging?

When making health claims for bakery products, not forgetting the importance of taste, texture and the pull of indulgent flavors is paramount. In the current economic climate more than ever, how consumers perceive the price/value ratio of the product is also fundamental to success. Consumers have shown willingness to pay a premium for health benefits that they value, but in some cases, the benefit has not been tangible enough to the product category. The limited development of functional claims in bakery products, for example, reflects this.

Also, the brand fit is key. Hostess Brands’ recent demise into bankruptcy was not helped by the fact that it retained a portfolio of brands such as Twinkies and Wonder Bread that were seen by consumers as outdated and unhealthy. Despite some recent efforts by the company to reformulate its range, the iconic status of the brands restricted its ability to move with the times.

How can bakers avoid these pitfalls? 

Some of the major successes in the high-fiber bakery product arena in recent years have included brands such as BelVita and Fiber One, but numerous other major players are also starting to exploit the opportunity.

The success of Fiber One has been built around delivering a fiber proposition but focusing wholeheartedly on also delivering good taste. It emphasizes this aspect as much as the fiber content. The hugely successful Fiber One brownies are available in a range of indulgent flavors to tempt consumers, including Chocolate Fudge, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Taste, texture, value and brand are all criteria that are rated as “very important” or “somewhat important” by 70% or more of bread shoppers, for example. Messaging that communicates that a bread brand has exceptional taste and offers better value to the consumer can be an especially powerful sales driver.