“Clean label often refers to products with free-from claims, simple ingredients and minimal processing. The concept of clean label has been used by the food industry for many years, but clean-related terms have now emerged as part of consumers’ vocabulary as a new way to say ‘healthy’,” global food science analyst at Mintel, Stephanie Mattucci, said.
Consumers seem to be responding positively to terms such as ‘clean label’ and ‘clean eating’ as products promoting these descriptors tend to be perceived as ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’, according to Mintel Purchase Intelligence report.
“However, the term ‘clean’ can also be polarizing and even confusing. While some consumers said they liked that a product was clean, several asked what ‘clean’ meant.”
'Confusion over dietary advice has created an opportunity for clean-related claims to resonate'
Even though clean has been linked to ‘healthy’, the definition of healthy still stands on shaky ground as the FDA is in the process of revising its guidance to be more inclusive of different nutritional factors such as healthy fats.
“The relevance of the current definition of healthy has been questioned as recommendations for public health and nutrition have evolved,” Mattucci continued.
In March 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that the agency was still in the process of modernizing claims such as ‘healthy’ including the possibility of a standard icon or symbol to include on products.
In regards to defining healthy as it relates to food products, Gottlieb said: “‘Healthy’ is one claim that the FDA believes is ready for change and we have already signaled our intention to update the criteria for this claim. The agency is considering how to depict ‘healthy’ on the package so that consumers can easily find it. Similarly, the FDA has also received requests for clarity on the use of "natural" in labeling. Just like other claims made on products regulated by FDA, we believe the "natural" claim must be true and based in science.”
But another logo or symbol designation may not be the answer as Mintel US research found that consumers are experiencing “claim fatigue” with 44% of consumers reporting that they trust claims on food and beverage products.
“While the FDA is currently reviewing its definition of healthy and will likely be more inclusive of foods with healthy fats, confusion over dietary advice has created an opportunity for clean-related claims to resonate with a seemingly simple, better-for-you message,” Mattucci added.
Non-profit group, The Clean Label Project is working towards an industry standard assessment for ‘clean label’ products, by testing products in an accredited analytical chemistry lab for 130 harmful environmental and industrial contaminants/toxins with a focus on baby and pet food products currently.
How consumers are defining clean
A trend towards fewer ingredients and minimal processing in the form of ‘free-from’ claims and elimination diets such as vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free are how most consumers are forming their perception of what ‘clean’ means, according to Mattucci.
Meanwhile, two in five US consumers agree that ‘no artificial ingredients’ is an important purchase driver when shopping for food and beverage items.
Mintel’s advice to brands looking to win favor with consumers by conveying a healthy, ‘clean’ image is to focus on the essential messaging that makes the product actually good for you.
“In order to maintain a clear message, brands can avoid using vague claims and instead, focus on the healthy attributes – eg fiber or wholegrain – that consumers are looking for to further encourage them to purchase better-for-you products,” Mattucci added.