Clean Labels, Global Consumers & Food Manufacturers

Originally Published: April 28, 2012
Last Updated: February 18, 2021
fresh and natural 100% organic food label sticker

Processed and formulated food products that seem unprocessed and unformulated are of interest to both consumers and manufacturers around the globe, thus providing the link between clean labels, global consumers & food manufacturers.

Many discussions of the clean label trend (where only a few consumer-friendly ingredients are used to formulate a product) seem to imply that consumer attitudes are the sole driving force.

I would argue that clean labels benefit food manufactures in other ways as well. For example, as the processed foods industry becomes increasingly global and CPG companies strive to distribute their branded products around the globe, formulated foods are transferred across country borders more easily when only a few traditional ingredients are used (1). That is, countries tend to have more restrictions on the use of an ingredient like “hydrogenated oil” than on an ingredient like “butter.”

natural or organic foods

As in many countries, Mexico has regulations governing organic products. The National Counsel for Organic Production (CNPO) was established in 2007.

Secondly, although “natural” and “organic” are two similar product attributes generally valued by consumers, they are also in competition with each other. A food processor can chose to market an organic product or a natural one. The first is often more expensive to do since it often has to meet more specific regulations than the second. An earlier Global Food Forums blog written on this received more comments than usual, “Giving Consumers What They Want: Natural or Organic”. Manufacturers tend to lean towards developing and marketing natural rather than organic foods and beverages due to operational issues.

So what makes a label “clean?” The website owned by National Starch/Corn Products International provides a few insights. Global consumer research conducted by MMR Research Worldwide in January 2011 and reported on the website’s research page notes among other findings that:

  • in France, “Natural”/”all natural” is the most appealing front-of-pack claim and 81 percent of French consumers rate the ingredient list as quite or very important when buying a food or drink,
  • in the UK, 68 percent of British consumers find on-pack claims relating to “no additives” / “no artificial ingredients” important,
  • in Spain, 69 percent of consumers rate on-pack claims relating to “no additives”/”no artificial ingredients” as important.

Are clean labels the ultimate goal? No. In consumer poll after poll, taste, price and convenience often trump all else. Consumers have the right to “want it all.” Trying to figure out how to deliver an optimal combination of valued benefits is the food industry’s challenge.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, Inc., a conference and seminar service provider

(1) The academic paper “Factors Impacting New Food Introductions in Emerging Markets” discusses the three key influences impacting new product decisions; company specific factors (related to the company launching the product), product specific factors (the nature of the product itself) and region or country specific factors (the area into which the product is launched). Regulations on food and beverage ingredients fall under governmental policies and regulations, a regional factor.