The Evolution of Natural in European Food and Drink Innovation

17 Sep 2013

Consumers are more wary about what they eat than ever before. It is clear, though, that the media coverage of the ‘evils’ of artificial additives has passed its peak. The mushrooming consumer demand for overtly ‘natural’ products seen in the last decade has thus started to subside. In 2007, 43% of UK consumers were prepared […]

The Evolution of Natural in European Food and Drink Innovation

Consumers are more wary about what they eat than ever before. It is clear, though, that the media coverage of the ‘evils’ of artificial additives has passed its peak. The mushrooming consumer demand for overtly ‘natural’ products seen in the last decade has thus started to subside. In 2007, 43% of UK consumers were prepared to pay a premium for foods without additives, and brand owners duly responded with a host of premium food innovation promoting the use of natural ingredients.

Through a combination of economic recession, the vagueness of what constitutes a natural mass-produced food, and consumer fatigue around the issue, by 2012 only 30% of consumers were prepared to pay a premium for such products. ‘Natural’ is thus no longer such a bankable route to premiumisation, with consumers coming to expect a greater degree of ‘naturalness’ as standard.

The use of natural colours in new food and drink launches, for example, is now widespread in Europe. Around eight in 10 food and drink launches using colours in recent years have used natural colours, largely accelerated by regulation introduced in 2010 that required warning labels to be used on products that contain the so-called Southampton Six colours.

In Europe, natural claims, including no additive/preservative claims, are being seen on 29% of launches so far in 2013, a figure which has consistently risen in recent years (being 25% in 2009). Special diet claims, though – such as free from gluten/lactose, as well as vegetarian – have been in faster growth, seen on 19% of launches so far in 2013, up from 13% in 2009.

The focus is thus switching from just additive/preservative-free claims to include other more specific ingredients that are high on the consumer’s radar and where avoidance has more of a value-add appeal.

Another shift in the natural foods arena has been the focus on simplicity and purity in food. Many brands have sought to promote the fact that they use only a limited number of ingredients and are thus not heavily-processed, complex products that are removed from nature.

Between 2010 and 2012, food and non-alcoholic drink launches in Europe that mentioned the word pure (or pur) on pack grew by over a quarter (26%) and look set for further growth in 2013. Such products are providing consumers with a very effective mental shortcut to a natural positioning, avoiding them having to read and understand ingredients lists.

Increasingly tied up with how consumers view naturalness is the ‘back story’ of any one product. Where the product has come from, how ethically it has been sourced or produced and safety assurances are also firmly in the mix in gaining consumer trust. Given that information around such elements of the supply chain is now readily made available by more producers and is more accessible by interested consumers, this back story will become more important to highlight. The opportunity to provide such information via on-pack QR codes in particular is being exploited by a number of major brand owners.

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