We're told demand for clean labels is one of the biggest trends affecting food and drink, with interest in all-natural products high as desire builds for simpler, back-to-basics propositions.
New products with natural claims grew from 25% to over a third between 2005 and 2009. Green claims rose from almost zero to over 10% in the same period. But recent research at Leatherhead indicates consumers often misunderstand such descriptions on food labels.
We asked 200 consumers for their opinion of the term 'sustainable' with respect to food labelling. Only a quarter gave answers relating to the green agenda and the need to ensure a long-term food supply for the world.
More than half were convinced it related to satiety (containing ingredients that kept them feeling fuller for longer). Some quoted particular brands associated with satiating or energy-giving products such as Lucozade and Kellogg's, while one respondent cited Popeye and his spinach!
Another group thought sustainable brands were those that had been around for ages, such as Hovis, Cadbury and Branston Pickle. Others thought it was "PR speak" or "means nothing". So only a quarter picked up the intended message! We suspect a similar situation exists regarding 'clean labels', so we're launching a multi-country research project to see what consumers really think about natural claims.
It will be interesting to see how consumers interpret the term 'natural', the ingredients they have most issues with and how perceptions change according to consumer group and geography. Let me know if you're interested.
Dr Paul Berryman, chief executive, Leatherhead Food Research