Health and Wellness Focus Drives Clean-Label

Originally Published: October 29, 2018
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
An characterization of a shoppers' basket filled with a variety of healthful foods.

March 27, 2018 — Consumers are very passionate about clean label issues, and their health and wellness focus drives clean-label demand. In fact, clean label category segments are growing much faster than their traditional counterparts. Untapped clean-label opportunities exist in various fresh and packaged-foods categories, such as frozen pizza, luncheon meats, salad dressing, sweet goods and more.

“According to the latest Nielsen data, at least half of consumers (53%) feel that keeping the bad stuff out of food is more important than adding the good stuff,” explained A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., President, Sloan Trends, Inc. in her presentation, “You are What You Eat: New and Emerging Consumer Views of What Should be in Food.” After bacteria, the top food safety consumer issues are carcinogens and chemicals in their food. These fears outpaced concerns over antibiotics, biotech/GMOs and allergens. In 2017, 52% of consumers said they preferred foods and beverages with no artificial additives – an all-time high, and 43% of consumers stopped buying a food because of a negative story on food chemicals.

At end of 2017, one-third of all foods and beverages were clean label, and half of all shopping trips included a clean label item. In the “Diet and Nutrition” category, only 40% of products are clean label, indicating significant opportunity for category growth.

New Age beverages posted the highest absolute dollar growth for the year ending 12/09/2017, followed by healthy snacks, deli dip, health care nutritionals, crackers and frozen novelties.

Frozen products have the highest incidence of “free from” claims. Millennials are driving the growth in the frozen category, with 43% of this age demographic purchasing more frozen foods in 2017. Pizza is a $24 billion business, but only 5% of this category is clean label.

Clean label is now the second most desired attribute in the beverage category for 2018. Small companies are capitalizing on the clean label category faster than medium or large companies.

Last year almost one-third of all dinners were prepared outside the home. The fastest growing segment of the foodservice market is prepared fresh foods in supermarkets. After hormone/antibiotic-free, consumers would like to see MSG-, sulfite- and phosphate-free claims more often on their label, per Mintel.

According to the latest Euromonitor data, the global packaged food clean label market is estimated at $193 billion versus $76 billion in the U.S. “Growth of health and wellness foods is actually stronger in developing countries than in developed countries,” said Sloan, thus consumers’ health & wellness focus drives clean-label demand.

Shifts in health and wellness behaviors are driving new opportunities given the mega trends outlined below, according to IRI.
• Consumers are purchasing for benefit as opposed to form or brand. For example, one-third of households are living a high-protein lifestyle (Note, the percentage outlook for more protein is actually 60%) and seeking more dietary protein, which can come from a variety of products including bars, cereal or snacks.
• Instant Nutritionals were the seventh fastest growing category in the U.S. In 2016, bars, beverages, meal replacements and adult nutritional products offer clean-label opportunity.
• Customers are now worried that they are not getting enough “specialty food ingredients” such as probiotics, botanicals or superfoods vs. one in five who are concerned about not getting enough basic nutrients.
• There has been a reorientation of top health concerns in the U.S. by age. The top concern used to be “heart disease,” but now “retaining mental sharpness as I age” tops the list.
• There is a new demographic of “Fit” consumers who exercise at least 3 days a week. These consumers are seeking products that deliver stronger muscles as well as brain health and are forcing the $42 billion sports nutrition market to move mainstream.
• In addition to foods, there’s also demand for more natural ingredients in over-the-counter drugs, which are also mimicking many food properties (e.g., flavors and foods forms as liquids or candy).
• There is an opportunity to provide a healthier halo for many food products by embracing processing techniques that improve the nutritional quality of their foods or position them as less processed (e.g., cold milled, fermented or use of high pressure pasteurization). Fairlife Ultra filtered Milk is one example, which is now the fastest growing among the top 10 milk brands in the U.S.
• Kid specific products are a $41 billion business. Parents are starting to prefer clean-label, kid-specific foods including toaster pastries, snack cakes and frozen pizza.
• There is growth in alternative plant-based snacks and beverages. Eight in 10 would purchase more plant-based snacks if they were fortified.

The primary reasons that people more actively embrace health and nutrition are because they have kids at home, they’re getting older, have a new condition or are feeling tired/rundown. And, while trends in more healthful, clean label products is on the rise, many untapped opportunities for new product development exists in a wide range of food and beverage categories.

“You are What You Eat: New and Emerging Consumer Views of What Should be in Food,” A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., President, Sloan Trends, Inc.

NOTE: For data attribution, see Sloan’s presentation at:

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