Traditionally used to refer to small-scale, handmade products, the number of foods carrying an ‘artisan’ appellation is growing rapidly, with more than 800 newly released products using the term over the past five years, according to Datamonitor market research. And recent product launches include some big players in the food industry.
Last month, Campbell Soup Company announced an ‘artisanal transformation’ of its classic tomato soup, with a new Harvest Orange Tomato Soup, Domino’s Pizza has launched a line of ‘Artisan Pizzas’, and Frito-Lay released Tostitos Artisan Recipes tortilla chips last year.
But when it comes to new product launches, most products carrying an artisanal description are exactly what you’d expect, according to director of Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics Tom Vierhile. Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA, he said that most new artisanal products are in three general categories: Bread and rolls, cheese, and chocolate – food categories that have long been associated with specialty products and specialist knowledge of how they are crafted.
Vierhile said: “I think that consumers may read into artisan that it’s more of a handmade product… Consumers may have a more wholesome view of artisan than manufacturers.”
‘Artisanal’ is simply a marketing term used to suggest that a product is special in some way, perhaps that it contains better quality ingredients, or has more impactful flavors than a company’s ‘regular’ products, he said.
“I think that companies like Campbell Soup are having a hard time convincing consumers that they have something special and they are trading up in a way,” he said, pointing out that its Slow Kettle Style Soups carry a pretty hefty $3 price tag.
“Campbell… is doing whatever it can to indicate to the consumers that these soups are a cut above regular canned soup. In this case, a term like ‘artisanal’ may reflect the thinking behind the line, and the use of higher quality ingredients.”
Artisanal is among a host of claims that manufacturers have been making on food packaging, as consumers look for ways to reconnect with food production. Some manufacturers have chosen to emphasize sustainable production methods, or fair trade ingredients. Unlike organic however, ‘artisanal’ is an unregulated term.
Vierhile said that much like use of the term ‘natural’, consumers may eventually decide how – and whether – they trust the term when used by large manufacturers. So is it possible for a company to be too big to call its products artisanal?
“I don’t think that there is a limit. I think that companies are going to push it,” he said. “Whether they are going to ruin the word or not, it may take some time to do it. Natural had a similar situation and then 7Up released a natural version, making consumers question where they would expect to see the term.”