Consumers are paying more attention to labels and choosing “free-from” foods—such as GMO-free and trans-fat-free—more often, according to a report released this week from Mintel Group.
According to Mintel’s study, 84 percent of those consumers who choose foods bearing “free-from” claims say they “are seeking out more natural or less processed foods.” In fact, 43 percent of the consumers Mintel studied “agree that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim.” Additionally, another 59 percent agree with the statement that “the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is.”
“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans fat-free, no doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the US and its related health consequences,” says Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Health issues appear to be top of mind among US consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies.”
Mintel’s data confirms what manufacturers, and, increasingly, restaurants (including Panera and Chipotle, who are leveraging their clean food efforts in their marketing campaigns) are hearing from customers: the fewer additives, the better.
Which “free-from” claims are most important to consumers? Topping the list is trans fat-free (78 percent), followed by preservative-free (71 percent). Despite a lack of real evidence that they are dangerous, GMOs also make the list of ingredients “free-from” consumers try to avoid. 58 percent of these consumers say GMO-free claims are “important,” with 35 percent ranking it as one of their top three most important labels. GMO-free claims outrank the importance of several other “free-from” claims, according to Mintel, including foods free of soy (22 percent), nuts/peanuts (20 percent) and eggs (17 percent). Sodium-free is another label important to this segment of consumers (57 percent). In fact, 40 percent listed it as one of their three “most important” claims.
The Mintel report found that despite increased interest and concern over food additives, a smaller number of consumers polled (37 percent overall) say products with free-from claims are worth paying more for. The researchers also found that free-from claims are most important to younger consumers. Mintel found that Millennials (60 percent) and Gen X (55 percent) more likely than Baby Boomers (46 percent) to say that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy. This information dovetails with recent research from the NPD Group, which found that Millennials are choosing more fresh and whole foods for their in-home eating occasions. In fact, fresh produce and dairy items are being consumed at their highest rates in nearly 30 years, according to that study. This trend is fueled largely by younger consumers.
Roberts presents this bottom line: “Overall, Mintel data indicates that consumers perceive foods with any free-from claim to be both healthier and less processed. Additionally, consumers appear to be equating genetic modification, artificial and unhealthy as one and the same, and those consumers are likely to turn away from product labels with unfamiliar ingredients or ingredients perceived as chemically complex or unnatural.”