A ‘boomer’ market for clean label


“Clean label” is a relatively new food industry term, but characteristics within that term may appeal to an older demographic market.

“Who is the most interested? Older consumers, the 50-plus age group,” said Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., president of Sloan Trends, Inc., Escondido, Calif., in a July 13 presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Chicago.

Baby boomers have time on their hands and a fair amount of money to buy clean label products, said John Hallagan, an attorney in Washington who has worked with the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA).

Consumers may have different goals when seeking out clean label products. Older people may want to avoid additives, Dr. Sloan said, while younger people may seek organic, all-natural and gluten-free items.

Dr. Sloan said Gallup has investigated clean label product use by attributes and age groups. A 2013 Gallup study asked consumers to give their reasons for avoiding chemical/artificial ingredients. Seventy-six per cent of those age 65 and older said “concern about health,” which compared to 75% for age 50-64, 62% for 35-49 and 58% for 18-34. Only 56% of those age 65 and older said “preference for natural products,” which ranked behind 59% for age 50-64, 66% for 35-49 and 69% for 18-34.

Dr. Sloan also pointed to a report this year from the Organic Trade Association, which showed U.S. organic food sales rose 11% in 2014 to reach $35.9 billion.

“One-third of those people are buying organic because they know, right or wrong, they know they do not contain any G.M.O.s,” Dr. Sloan said.

Other people may get confused when trying to differentiate between organic items and non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. items, she said. The organic industry has found itself explaining that to qualify for a certified organic claim from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a product must be void of bioengineered/G.M.O. ingredients, Dr. Sloan said. Companies may face a decision about whether to take on the added costs of obtaining third-party non-G.M.O. certification for products already certified as organic.

Both Dr. Sloan and Mr. Hallagan said companies are not using all-natural claims as much because of potential litigation.

“It is the preferred term of consumers, but industry has backed off of it,” Dr. Sloan said.

Mr. Hallagan said companies need to be especially careful when working with flavors in clean label products. He referred to the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Section 101.22 for more information on the rules for labeling flavors, including natural flavors.

“Clean labeling with flavors is different,” he said.

For example, a product might be promoted on the front label as natural strawberry shortcake if it indeed contained strawberries, he said. If a product did not contain strawberries but contained natural flavors, it might be called naturally-flavored strawberry shortcake.

Such terms as all-natural, organic and non-G.M.O. may appeal to many consumers, but fewer consumers may recognize the term clean label.

“Clean label is a very, very complicated consumer topic,” Dr. Sloan said. “No. 1, it is not a consumer buzz word.”

Mr. Hallagan said the objective for clean label should be to make it easier for consumers to understand what is in the food they are buying and how it is made.

Ms. Sloan said, “Clean label basically boils down No. 1 to this: the avoidance, right or wrong, of artificial additives.”

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