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What ‘Clean’ Food Cues Are Shoppers Looking For? Hartman Group Weighs In

Consumers are looking for cues signaling ‘clean’ and ‘natural’, but they don’t necessarily expect to see those words on food labels, and may even be suspicious of brands that use them on pack, says Hartman Group.

Speaking at FOOD VISION USA in Chicago last week, Hartman Group SVP Shelley Balanko, PhD, said clean and natural food should be self-evident through multiple cues, not seen purely as marketing terms. “Our research shows that the downside of the term ‘clean’ in consumer communications is that some people think it’s a bit pretentious and neurotic. There’s also a sentiment that it’s like ‘natural,’ potentially a marketing gimmick, so we would probably recommend against putting it on pack . “When seen on-pack, ‘natural’ continues to be regarded with skepticism. Four in five consumers have clear ambivalence or outright distrust of the ‘All Natural’ label .” 

Consumers, she said, are looking for less processed foods “that intuitively retain the integrity of the original ingredients,” products that are “made simply and grown naturally without unnecessary chemicals, processing or cooking stages… it’s about products that look, feel, and taste like they should, things that are as close as possible to their original form, that haven’t been shape-shifted, that have visible, whole ingredients.” So cues for clean/natural might be the absence of red flag ingredients (anything that sounds unnatural or artificial), a short, recognizable ingredient list, distinctive flavors, locally sourced, markers of high quality production or sourcing, premium and so on, she said, noting that terms such as ‘authentic,’ ‘real,’ ‘simple,’ and ‘fresh’ are often used interchangeably with ‘clean,’ again suggesting that clean labels are about more than just avoiding ‘artificial’ ingredients. 


Exclusive: Tapping Premium Trends to Drive Growth

SEATTLE — Today’s consumer seeks upgraded experiences in everyday occasions, driving growth of the small, yet important premium segment, said Laurie Demeritt, chief executive officer of the Hartman Group. “Premium currently represents 9% of the overall food and beverage marketplace, and we believe … within the next decade that will probably double,” Ms. Demeritt said. “And the question is, who are the winners, and who are the ones who will be left by the wayside?”

That was the topic of insightful discussion during the Hartman Group’s “Driving Growth 2017” symposium on Sept. 27 at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, where senior leaders and analysts identified opportunities for packaged food firms to keep pace with consumers’ evolving needs.

Consumer perceptions of premium vary, but the Hartman Group defines premium as food and beverage experiences built on uncommon product attributes that reshape the definition of quality. Such attributes range from grass-fed to grain-free and are mostly found today among emerging brands. This amounts to a retail market worth about $75 billion with average year-over-year growth of 10% over the past decade, Ms. Demeritt said.

“Who’s consuming premium today?” Ms. Demeritt said. “Simply put, some people, some of the time, in some categories. What we see is premium sprinkled throughout cabinets and cupboards.” In food service, premium cues include freshness, customization and experience, often features of a fast-casual restaurant setting.


How Much Protein Do We Need?

The Hartman Group, a consumer research firm that has been conducting a study of American food culture over the past 25 years and counting, has found that nearly 60 percent of Americans are now actively trying to increase their protein intake. Many are avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates and turning to protein-rich foods, snacks and supplements. The firm calls protein “the new low-fat” or “the new low-carb,” even “the new everything when it comes to diet and energy.”

“Soccer moms feel they can’t be anywhere without protein,” says Melissa Abbott, the firm’s vice president for culinary insights. “Really it’s that we’ve been eating so many highly processed carbs for so long. Now it’s like you try nuts, or you try an egg again, or fat even” to feel full and help you “get through the day.”

In her research, Ms. Abbott said she always seems to be finding beef jerky in gym bags and purses, and protein bars in laptop bags or glove compartments. Many consumers, she notes, say they are afraid that without enough protein they will “crash,” similar to the fear of crashing, or “bonking,” among those who are elite athletes. But most of us are getting more than enough protein. And few seem to be aware that there may be long-term risks of consuming too much protein, including a potential increased risk of kidney damage. 



The A.C.T. Experience

Click on this link to go to the event page: A.C.T. SEATTLE

Finding inspiration for “what to make to eat?” can be a real challenge for many of America’s households

Cooking today for a family must accommodate everyone’s schedule and food preferences ranging from avoidances to culinary variety and healthfulness.


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