by Kelly Hensel
“The economic downturn may have slowed growth, but ‘natural’ is here to stay,” said Mintel’s Lynn Dornblaser, Director CPG Trend Insight, in a presentation in the Special Events Pavilion on Tuesday, June 14. This is mainly due to the fact that U.S. consumers are demanding natural products because they equate natural with healthy. In fact, more than 60% of consumers agree with the statement that “If a product is labeled all natural it’s healthy.” In addition, some consumers will pay more for natural products in certain categories, especially children’s beverages.
Consumers are attracted to this “natural nutrition” because they see it as inherently good, fresh, and wholesome. As Dornblaser explained, consumers desire transparency in their food and beverages. “They are very suspicious of things they don’t understand and this translates into them being afraid of chemical names they can’t understand,” said Dornblaser. For this same reason, they are attracted to “clean” labels, which have a relatively small number of ingredients and those ingredients are identifiable. Natural colors and flavors can play a role in delivering these benefits that consumers are looking for.
In new product development traditional health claims are in a long-term decline. However, other claims are on the rise, including convenience and ethical and environmental. But natural claims take the cake with the highest number of new products over other product claims. In fact, more than 35% of all new products released in 2010 bore a natural claim.
Not only are consumers seeking out products with natural claims, but companies can use these claims to enhance a premium product. For example, Haagen-Dazs launched its Five ice cream (made with just five simple, natural ingredients) in 2009 and since then it has outperformed the company’s other brand ice creams. However, natural isn’t just about premium; value priced items with natural claims work as well. Yoplait’s Simply… Go-Gurt yogurt is priced the same as non-natural yogurt, but it has no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial colors or flavors. This product sold $17 million in the first 71 weeks on the market.
Natural flavors and colors are popular claims around the world; however the desire for each varies from country to country. In Europe, both natural colors and flavors are highly valued in food, while the U.S. market has a stronger focus on artificial colors in foods. For beverages, European consumers once again value natural flavors and colors. Americans really desire natural flavors, which are driven by juices, but artificial colors are still used a lot. According to Mintel’s data, the five top food categories with natural colors and flavors are bakery, snacks, meals and meal centers, sauces and seasonings, and processed fish, meat, and eggs.
Dornblaser concluded the session by emphasizing that “consumers are attracted to all things natural but they see the see the whole picture.” This includes natural colors and flavors as well as other natural ingredients, natural sweeteners, and natural packaging. The focus in the future will be on the promotion of the positive, not the absence of negative ingredients. “Success is built on the brand values of transparency, trust, and simplicity,” explained Dornblaser. So, whether companies decide to “go natural” with their products, it is important to honest and simple with your messages and formulations (if possible) in order to build a trusting relationship with consumers.