Confusion reigns over clean labeling

The latest consumer research from Canadean reveals a lack of consensus over what ‘clean’ really means to consumers.

Canadean Senior Consumer Insight Analyst Melanie Felgate says the term ‘clean label’ resonates differently among consumers globally and, moreover, 34 per cent of consumers do not have any understanding of what it means.

“This may reflect the fact that the term ‘clean label’ is more widely used in industry than as a marketing claim in itself,” she said. “However, as the ‘clean’ movement gains mainstream traction, as reflected by the popularity of social media hashtags such as #cleaneating, it’s important that marketers understand what ‘clean’ actually means to the consumer.”

Of those who do recognise the ‘clean label’ term, Canadean’s Q4 2015 global survey indicated it is most likely to be interpreted as meaning products are free from artificial ingredients, are natural or organic, or are chemical/pesticide-free, while a smaller proportion of consumers also associate it with other attributes, such as being allergen-free.

“The ‘clean label’ term generally resonates with consumers as an indicator that a product is natural or chemical-free,” Ms Felgate said. “However, the fact that a significant proportion of consumers don’t understand the term or interpret it to mean, for example, that a product could be gluten free, suggests that brands should continue to place their marketing focus on core benefits, rather than simply promoting their products as ‘clean’.”

According to Ms Felgate, the more the term is bandied about, the less impact it will likely have among consumers in the long term.

“What’s interesting is that in the US where the clean-labelling movement is arguably more advanced, almost half of consumers do not understand its meaning,” she said. “The lack of clarity may actually turn consumers away from brands marketed in this way, rather than promoting the simplicity that should underpin the ideals of clean labelling.”

Canadean says that, as more brands take steps to remove artificial ingredients from their portfolios, it remains to be seen how much weight ‘clean label’ will have in the future, especially as the philosophy behind the term increasingly becomes the norm rather than an exception.

What is clear, it says, is that brands cannot rely on clean messaging alone to convince consumers to buy a product: just one in 10 consumers surveyed said they would be willing to pay more than five per cent extra for a product claiming to be clean label.

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