Confused shopper
Confusion about the terms "clean label" and "organic" abounds, but the good news is that consumers are reading labels more often.

Do consumers really understand what the food industry is doing — or even talking about — when it comes to clean label or organics? More than half of consumers report being familiar with “clean label,” but just 38% indicated a strong understanding of its exact definition, according to preliminary results of new research by Kerry Ingredients.

The study reflected that respondents have a broad interpretation of the commonly used industry term. Participants associated popular descriptors such as “all natural,” “non-G.M.O.” and “no additives or preservatives” with the term as well as other product attributes such as “farm grown,” “sustainably produced,” “minimally processed” and “made with real ingredients.” Overall, the study showed, confusion abounds, but the good news is that consumers are reading labels more often.

Then comes organic, and the new designation Certified Transitional, a new program by U.S.D.A. and supported by the Organic Trade Association. The initiative, touted as “organics in training,” is designed to help farmers in the intensive, three-year process of converting from conventional methods to organic certification. Although transitional crops may not be sold in the organic market, the program is designed to sell these certified transitional ingredients — potentially at a premium price — after one year during the organic certification process. The goal is to encourage more organic farming and alleviate the shortage of many organic ingredients that exists today.

But what are the benefits to consumers? Do they really understand why they should buy Certified Transitional products? Some companies like Kashi are doing their part to educate consumers about the benefits, and its YouTube videos actually do a pretty good job. Still, the food industry as a whole can do a better job at communicating by speaking a language that everyone understands.