Market & Trends

An Imminent Clean Food Revolution? Decade-Long Study Finds Clean-Label Products Set to Dominate in Next 2 Years

Research carried out by Ingredion, spanning over a decade, heralds a significant shift within the European food industry, with clean-label products poised to revolutionise company portfolios in the imminent future.

Dubbed ATLAS, the comprehensive study was orchestrated in collaboration with Clear Seas Research, shedding light on an overwhelming consensus among European manufacturers: a staggering 99% perceive clean-label products not merely as an advantage but as a cornerstone of their business strategy.

“It’s evident that clean label and nutrition profile are not just consumer preferences but are driving business growth”

Although there is no formal definition, the term ‘clean-label’ generally refers to short lists of recognisable, natural ingredients. According to the study, clean-label products are projected to constitute more than 70% of portfolios within the next two years—a substantial leap from 52% in 2021— underscoring a pivotal movement towards transparency and ingredient simplicity.

The importance of messaging

While this trend could be potentially problematic to producers of plant-based meats, which have been demonised for being highly processed, it is vital for producers to convey through nuanced messaging that meat alternatives offer a good nutritional profile, in general; are superior to animal products in that they provide a source of fiber, bioavailable proteins, and micronutrients, with low saturated fat, as per a GFI study; and that “ultra-processed” does not necessarily equate to unhealthy, as explained in a white paper by food systems researcher Jenny Chapman.

Vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans, superfoods, clean eating WFPB
© bit24 – stock.adobe.com

Constantin Drapatz, Senior Marketing Manager – Clean & Simple Food Ingredients, at Ingredion, said: “It is exciting to see the overwhelming response from food manufacturers, making clean label part of their business strategy with more than half of manufacturers reporting increased revenue and margins without raising prices. For more than a decade our ATLAS research confirms the consumer´s desire for transparency and healthier eating. It’s evident that clean label and nutrition profile are not just consumer preferences but are driving business growth.”

Consumers focus on the absence of negatives

Furthermore, Acosta Group released the results of its recent Clean Label Insights Study last month, revealing that such products are driving retail sales as they gain consumer preference. One of Acosta’s five retail predictions for 2024 states that “consumers will prioritize what’s NOT in their products”. Acosta found that 83% of shoppers are already knowledgeable about clean-label products and 8 in 10 shoppers believe the products are better for them and for the environment.

While the price point of such products is still a barrier, 40% of men are willing to pay more for clean-label products, compared to 28% of women, according to the Acosta study.

“Our research further defines shopper priorities, preferences, and generational differences around clean-label products,” said Kathy Risch, SVP, Thought Leadership and Shopper Insights, Acosta Group. “It’s clear that shoppers consider the absence of negatives, or an emphasis on what’s not in the products, to be the most important attribute in their clean label purchasing choices.”

Kiki Butter Organic, Nut-Free Spread on Toast
©PlantBaby

An opportunity to differentiate your brand

The Ingredion-led research states that embracing clean label strategies is intrinsically linked to elevating product quality, enhancing brand perception, and magnetising new clientele.

“The results represent a continuum post-COVID 19. During the pandemic, there was a boost in consumers’ choice of products with labels and ingredient lists in line with their values and perception of health. Despite the more challenging economic environment, the industry has expanded [its] focus and relevance of clean-label. By focusing on ingredients that are recognisable and part of a short ingredients list, manufacturers can tap into a growing market segment that values both transparency and quality,” says Drapatz.

“This approach responds directly to the consumer desire for cleaner labels and presents an opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves in a competitive market — and shows how manufacturers are actively contributing to a healthier food ecosystem,” he added.

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