Consumer demand increasing for ‘clean’ food

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Consumers want their food to be clean.

And food processors and restaurateurs are giving it to them.

“Clean label is considered to be a table stake now,” said food scientist and consumer products researcher Kristie Sigler in a presentation to the Canola Council of Canada annual meeting March 8.

When it comes to food labelling and marketing, “clean” doesn’t mean the food product or ingredients have been cleaned from dirt or other contaminants. It refers to being free from, and not containing or involving certain products and practices.

These “clean” elements include everything from having simple non-synthetic ingredients to antibiotic-free claims, to all sorts of “free from” claims and certifications.

“Clean has been a way for the food industry to start to break themselves apart from their competition,” said Sigler, a professor with Ohio State University,

That explains the aggression with which some companies have leapt into clean label and advertising claims. Canada’s most famous example is A & W’s better beef campaign.

In the U.S., a well-know one was run by Panera Bread, a major chain.

“Clean food tastes better, feels better, does better,” said one of the TV ads run in 2016.

Clean is currently following “clear” as the big labelling trend. Clear labels spelled out product ingredients so consumers didn’t need to wonder or fear. Clean jumps a step forward by adding quality claims.

“A key element of “clear” is the shift to sustainability,” said Sigler.

There are contradictions and ironies in dealing with consumer demands, Sigler noted. People still say that taste and cost are some of the biggest factors to them when they consider food at grocery stores or restaurants. That isn’t always easy to get with certain claims.

And while consumers say they want organic foods and processors have made bold commitments to various sorts of organic and animal welfare practices, there doesn’t appear to be enough production and supply available to meet all the promises.

But the clean food claims are a growing trend and all food producers, processors and marketers need to understand this movement.

“We have to get it so we can keep growing our business,” said Sigler.

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