Consumer demands are radically shifting, but Maple Leaf Foods isn’t going to introduce a new premium line to match the demands.
Instead it’s overhauling every product it makes under the Maple Leaf logo.
“It’s a very broad and extensive change,” said Maple Leaf Foods senior vice-president for marketing and innovation Adam Grogan.
For about a decade, Maple Leaf has been selling products with labels highlighting “natural” or specific ingredients, but now it is re-launching all of its products under its main brand with the claim that they contain no artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners or preservatives.
Grogan said the company has worked for about 18 months reformulating every food product to eliminate ingredients consumers find objectionable.
Those include common ingredients starting with “poly” and “sodium,” as well as sulfites, bha and bht, and artificial smoke flavour. It lists more than two dozen ingredients that it has banished on its Food Manifesto.
It is swapping those with what it calls “real,” “simple” and “natural” ingredients, such as vinegar, cultured celery extract and cherry powder.
The company is also promising consumers that it will not use ingredients people cannot easily pronounce.
“Consumers are looking for these types of products. Our products are in households across the country … and we just felt we were going to go all-in to make sure that we had a brand that could deliver on what they were looking for for the future, for a very long time,” said Grogan.
Food processing is an exacting applied science, in which the right taste, texture, food safety and appearance are all vital. Grogan said about 100 products had to be reformulated to fit in with the company’s new commitments, and some that couldn’t be changed were abandoned.
“Where we could not include an ingredient that was natural, real or simple, it was not launched in the new portfolio,” said Grogan.
Particularly challenging was switching preservatives from artificial to “natural,” especially because of Canada’s geography.
“We have a very big country. It’s very vast. We need (adequate) shelf life in this country in order to be able to serve coast to coast in an economic way,” he said.
Maple Leaf employed scientists to develop reformulations, then ran them by groups of consumers to ensure people liked the new versions of old products.
The company decided that everything had to be as good or better than the originals to be approved, Grogan said.
The new products have begun to be released, replacing the old versions. The Maple Leaf website proudly proclaims its changes, with claims like: “Made for families. No fake food. Only simple ingredients that we’ll never hide.”
Grogan said the company believes trust and transparency are becoming essential elements of food marketing, with consumers wanting these assurances.
“Consumers want to know exactly what’s in their food. They want the companies that service them to be 100 percent open and honest and transparent about how they produce that food.”