Consumers Lean Toward Simplified Labels

Originally Published: March 29, 2018
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
An image of foods permitted on a Ketogenic diet, such as salmon, eggs, cheese and avocado, which are high in healthy fats, have moderate amounts of protein and are low in carbs.

March 29, 2018 — Consumers lean toward simplified labels and additionally crave transparency now more than ever. Clean label is the industry’s response to that need for label transparency. “Today, 94% of consumers feel that it is important for brands to be transparent; 83% would value having more in- depth product information, and 37% would be willing to switch to a brand that shares more detailed information,” said Thea Bourianne, Senior Food and Beverage Data Analyst, Label Insight. 


2018 CLC/Thea Bourianne - Consumers Lean Toward Simplified, Comprehensible Labels

Consumers’ desire for label transparency often dictates dietary choices. Click image for larger PDF of chart.

Transparency impacts shopper behavior. Consumers now link health, wellness and with their definition of safety and include factors such as free from harmful ingredients (62%); clear and accurate labeling (51%); and fewer ingredients, less processing and nothing artificial (42%).

Label Insight was born out of the personal struggle of the founders to find products they could trust after their father was diagnosed with a health condition. There’s a lot of information [on the label of] physical packaging; much of it is hard for the average consumer to understand. It’s also difficult to compare one product to another. Label Insight takes all of the information from the package label and translates it into a “data prism.” The result is a diverse set of over 22,000 attributes. The company has 440,000 products in their database, covering more than 80% of the top selling products in U.S., said Bourianne.

Consumers are shopping with more diverse needs than ever before. Nearly 50% of consumers follow some sort of diet or health-related program. There are lifestyle diets, allergen intolerance diets, weight management diets and many more that influence the way consumers shop and select products.

More than three-fourths of consumers are looking at ingredient statements to avoid certain ingredients—artificial ingredients being one of the most common. Currently, 81% of our food products in the U.S. are free from artificial sweeteners; 76% are free from artificial flavors; 74% of foods are free from artificial colors; and 59% of food products are free from artificial preservatives.

Sugar tops the list of ingredients that consumers are trying to avoid, with 44% of consumers avoiding artificial sweeteners, and 56% avoiding high-fructose corn syrup. Also, 47% of consumers say they will decrease the amount of sugar they consume in 2018. One of the factors fueling the shift away from sugars is the updated Nutrition Facts Panel that calls out added sugars.

Currently, 40% of food products contain added sugars on their ingredient statements, regardless if they declare it on the nutrition label yet. Trendy diets dictate which ingredients 12% many consumers avoid. “Individuals on a Paleo diet eliminate dairy, refined sugar and certain cooking oils. Those on the Whole 30 Diet avoid dairy, sugar, legumes and grains. Those on a Ketogenic diet avoid refined carbs, sugar and juice,” explained Bourianne.

Customers are looking for cues on packaging to let them know if a specific product meets their diet expectations. Currently, only 630 products make a “paleo suitable” claim, while 66,000 products could make that claim based on the Label Insight ingredient analysis, Bourianne noted.

Just as consumers are avoiding certain ingredients, they are also seeking out other ingredients. Although there is no regulated definition for “superfoods,” it is generally accepted that they are foods that contain high levels of desirable nutrients. Blueberries and avocados are the most desired superfoods. Popular super-food ingredients also include green tea, kale, cinnamon, coconut oil and ginger.

The probiotics trend is also big. Over 6,400 foods, mostly yogurt, contain probiotics. There is recent growth in claims around fermented beverages and foods including kombucha and sauerkraut.

There are clear winners and losers in the clean label quest, stated Bourianne. Salty snacks and candy categories are seeing the most dollar growth in clean label products, while coffee and ice cream categories are seeing high percentage growth.

Retailers are expressing what it means for them to be clean and transparent. Whole Foods’ list paved the way for everyone with their list of unacceptable food ingredients. Raley’s, Wegmans and Hy-Vee, among others, have created their own “no no” lists. Raley’s has created various symbols to indicate foods with specific attributes, such as “vegan” or “no added sugar.” Consumers can also use these categories to filter foods when shopping online.

Transparency is not going away, and industry is responding at the brand and retail level, concluded Bourianne.

“Exploring Today’s Top Ingredient Trends and How They Fit into our Health-Conscious World,” Thea Bourianne, Senior Food and Beverage Data Analyst, Label Insight

This presentation was given at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to

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