Are labels confusing customers?

Clean label has been focused on the removal of 'bad' ingredients, with consumers demanding a return to transparency through authenticity.  Unsurprisingly, ‘Free From’ and other such health trends were at the forefront at the 2018 Food & Drink Conference held in London.

Food stabilisers, which have been common ingredients in many popular drinks for years due to their ability to stop liquids from separating, are just one example of a change in the consumer mindset; as consumers become more educated they're happier to just shake or stir before they consume.

But the surge of health claims means many consumers are more confused than ever.

For many, clean label means none of those nasty artificial ingredients.  We work with Musgrave in Ireland, who explained it well by instead referring to 'household ingredients'.  Ideally, there would be nothing on an ingredient list you wouldn't recognise as something you could have in your own kitchen cupboard to cook with/from.

As well as this, I believe it is also about simple and unambiguous labels.

For example, avoid misleading 'low fat' product claims that are instead stacked full of salt or sugar.  Low fat claims may sound promising, but they are missing the fact that the right fats are an essential part of our diet. Is this being made clear to the consumer? Which fats are being removed from the product and which ones remain?

During the panel discussion at the Food & Drink Conference 2018, there was consensus that there are too many conflicting, or misleading, claims.  Just because chocolate is high in anti-oxidants doesn't make it healthy!  As much as I wish it did.

Brands need to simplify health messaging.  Brands need to be clever to deliver simple and unambiguous messages. There are too many conflicting claims.

And this is an area where own brand retailers can lead the way because they have the scale to brand across categories, across ranges.

On the same theme, I've spoken in the past about sustainable fishing, which is a subject close to my own heart, but even though I am quite well educated in such matters - or at least, I like to think I am - I'm confused between the claims of MSC, RSPCA, line caught and the general 'sustainably fished' or 'sustainable source' claims.  I have seen first-hand that within the same range on different products, Sainsbury's carry most, if not all of the above. Which is best; I don't know?

Waitrose do this well with what is essentially their own 'health mark' where the detail may be on the pack, but there is clear signposting that 'this is a healthier product'. 


That works with such a well trusted brand as Waitrose, but it is a clear sign that brands need to simplify labelling - not just the ingredients - and it is an opportunity for own brand ranges to lead the way.

To download our whitepaper on clean label and how food retailers can enhance transparency for consumers, click here.

Tags: Product development, Product insights, SmartLabel

James Butcher

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