Over the years, the needs of customers have gradually evolved and their decision-making power has grown considerably. They are now at the center of marketing efforts, as personalization and satisfaction have replaced over-persuasive and forceful adds. Most people nowadays want to be informed, especially regarding the various ingredients found in their favorite foods, which is very legitimate. When able to make informed decisions, they can prove to be particularly loyal customers to companies in which they trust. In fact, a study recently conducted in the U.S. revealed that 86% of shoppers feel a higher sense of trust toward companies that provide complete information regarding the ingredients found in their products. That is why many people grow attached to the brands they know best, which can be hard for new contestants who wish to thrive.
In such a context, there is a high need for honesty and transparency, and food manufacturers who do not comply must face dire consequences. Indeed, falsely labelled products are often boycotted and shunned, and tarnish the reputation of the brands they are associated with. Think about your favorite brand of maple syrup, for example. Would you still buy it if the producers were rightfully accused of lying on the ingredients of the syrup and its source? Probably not. Nonetheless, it is what happened to a well-known maple company of Vermont – which I will not name – a few years ago. The producers were denounced because it was proven their “pure maple syrup from Vermont” was not so pure after all, and wasn’t even from Vermont either. The company had to change its labels because it falsely led customers to believe they were buying a local product, and was violating the state’s labelling laws. The company’s image has suffered the consequences of such lies, and many customers simply went elsewhere to purchase maple syrup.
The growing emphasis on health concerns pushes most manufacturers to follow trends and regulations more religiously. Truth in labelling, clean label and label transparency have notably become norms that guide many major players in the food industry.
Truth in labelling
In Canada, legislation regarding truth in labelling provides guidance to companies in order for them to avoid the use of misleading labels. While governments do not squarely regulate every single word found on those labels, such regulations still ensure the safety of all food products sold in the country. They also give customers the ability to make informed choices, because the way the meaningful information is presented is constantly improved in order to simplify their shopping experience.
While not required by law, “clean label” is a trend that refers to products in which customers can find both natural and familiar ingredients. It has nothing to do with consuming less prepackaged foods, but instead translates the wish to see those products made from simpler and healthier ingredients. “Clean” foods thus contain less chemicals and synthetic additives that are impossible to pronounce, and instead comprise fewer ingredients overall and have a higher nutritional value. Products labelled as “fat free” or “gluten free” are good examples of this trend. Some foods qualify as “clean” because of the way they are packaged and the specific words used on their label, but still contain high amounts of salt and sugar. That is why it is probably better to consume them with parsimony.
Such a trend can be especially hard to follow for food companies, as many products need to have their ingredients changed in order to be “clean”. The use of chemicals and additives is often cheaper and more convenient, but they still have to be removed from the list of ingredients. Replacing them with fresher components can prove a quite difficult task, as it usually increases the production costs and shortens the shelf life of such products. Since awareness toward clean label is becoming more and more important, companies still have no choice but to adapt. Because my colleagues do not add any harmful nor unnecessary ingredients to their sweet maple syrup, they did not have to make any change to their recipe. As their product only contains pure maple syrup, it is already considered clean label.
Unlike the former trend, label transparency applies to all types of products available out there. This movement implies that companies must be completely honest regarding how their goods were sourced and produced, and how they might affect the environment and the health of consumers. Transparent foods, for instance, are comestible products that only contain the ingredients mentioned on their packaging label.
Indeed, transparency has become crucial to the growth of companies, many of which use the Internet as a way to share as much information as possible. It is the case for Canadian Maple Company, for instance, as everything you need to know can be found on their website. I know my colleagues are very transparent when it comes to sharing the truth with their customers, because they have absolutely nothing to hide.