LAS VEGAS — Food and beverage companies can expect to face more pressure from consumers and consumer groups about the ingredients included in products, according to two speakers at the SupplySide West trade show on Nov. 14. But rather than try to wait out a crisis and suffer negative publicity, industry executives were encouraged to be proactive.
“If you make or include an ingredient that moonlights as an industrial chemical, people will make a connection,” said Lori Colman, the co-chief executive officer of CBD Marketing, Chicago.
Citing a study conducted by Ketchum, New York, Ms. Colman said there is an emerging demographic of consumers called “food evangelists,” and 40% of the population is “food concerned” and 22% are talking about it.
“They are action oriented and they are out to impact the way food is raised, grown, packaged and sold,” Ms. Colman said. “The group also generates 1.7 billion conversations about food each week.”
Kantha Shelke, a principal in Corvus Blue, L.L.C., Chicago, a food science and research company, said, “Consumer perception is rapidly becoming a market reality. A smart food company will look at what it is presenting and educate its audience about its ingredients and what they can do for consumers.”
Ms. Shelke added that among consumers there is an all-time high interest in controlling what people are eating; there is an all-time high interest in understanding what is in food products; and there is widespread ignorance of what is good for consumers.
“We need to start educating our audience,” she said.
Ms. Colman said red flags companies should consider regarding the ingredients they use include if an ingredient is banned in another country; if it is known to trigger allergies; and if it is being talked about in social media.
She recommended that if a company finds itself in the center of controversy over an ingredient, executives should look for the source, respond respectfully and anticipate responses.
Ms. Shelke said the clean label trend is currently small in the United States, but it is growing.
“If clean label tips it may become the new price of admission for the food industry,” she said. “It would have major implications for food.”
She added that there are efforts under way by several well-funded organizations to educate consumers about food additives. One is the Food Additive project being conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts that is working with toxicology experts from academia and conducting an assessment of the F.D.A.’s regulatory oversight of chemicals added to food and will publish a series of peer-reviewed articles and reports on key issues.