Consumers not clear on clean label definition

by Jeff Gelski
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Clean Label
In a global survey, 34% of consumers said they did not know what “clean label” means.

LONDON — More than a third of respondents in a global survey from Canadean said they do not have any understanding about the term “clean label.” Melanie Felgate, senior consumer insight analyst for London-based Canadean, said food and beverage manufacturers thus might want to choose other terms to promote products.

Melanie Felgate, Canadean
Melanie Felgate, senior consumer insight analyst for Canadean

“The ‘clean label’ term generally resonates with consumers as an indicator that a product is natural or chemical-free,” she said. “However, the fact that a significant proportion of consumers don’t understand the term or interpret it to mean, for example, that a product could be gluten-free, suggests that brands should continue to place their marketing focus on core benefits, rather than simply promoting their products as ‘clean.’”

Canadean’s survey took place in December and involved 27,185 respondents from 31 countries. When asked what the term “clean label” means, 36% said free from artificial ingredients while 34% said natural/organic claims and 34% said they did not know what “clean label” means.

“What’s interesting is that in the U.S. where the clean labelling movement is arguably more advanced, almost half of consumers (45%) do not understand its meaning,” Ms. Felgate said. “The lack of clarity may actually turn consumers away from brands marketed in this way, rather than promoting the simplicity that should underpin the ideals of clean labelling.”

Other answers globally were no pesticides/chemicals/toxins (31%), free from allergens (24%), no G.M.O.s (23%), minimally processed (16%), simple/short ingredient lists (11%) and transparent packaging (7%). The survey found 1 in 10 consumers said they would be willing to pay over 5% more for a product claiming to be clean label.

“The term ‘clean label’ resonates differently among consumers globally, and moreover a third of consumers (34%) do not actually have any understanding of what it means at all,” Ms. Felgate said. “This may reflect the fact that the term ‘clean label’ is more widely used in industry than as a marketing claim in itself. However as the ‘clean’ movement gains mainstream traction, as reflected by the popularity (of) social media hashtags such as #cleaneating, it is important that marketers understand what ‘clean’ actually means to the consumer.”

Caribou Coffee clean label commitment
Caribou Coffee recently announced its clean label commitment.

She said Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee has taken a smart approach to clean label promotions.

“While Caribou Coffee promotes the removal of artificial flavorings as their ‘clean label pledge,’ the message given to consumers focuses strongly on the sensory benefits,” Ms. Felgate said. “The brand emphasizes the ‘realness’ of its ingredients to provide a ‘superior flavor,’ with slogans like ‘change you can taste’ and ‘it just got real’ taking center stage. Highlighting these sensory advantages will resonate much more strongly with consumers than relying solely on the potentially confusing clean label message to sell the brand.”
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