Confusion over what the term ‘natural’ means when applied to food products is driving a free-from “revolution”, says consumer behaviour specialist Mintel.
Analyzing consumer trends in Canada, Mintel researchers say that while natural food and drink appears to have gone mainstream in the country, confusion around what ‘natural’ actually means is driving growth in free-from based propositions.
Research from Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) reveals that there was a 366% increase in ‘GMO-free’ claims on natural food/drink launches in Canada from 2007-17*, while ‘no additives/preservatives’ claims grew 21%**. Meanwhile, relatively less specific claims such as ‘all natural product’ declined 62% in the same time period***.
Although natural/organic food and drink shoppers are most likely to agree that foods and beverages with natural/organic claims are better for you (42%), Mintel’s research reveals confusion among some consumers about what that actually means. For example, shoppers are just as likely to agree that natural/organic foods and beverages offer clear benefits (22%) as they are to say that foods with natural/organic claims are a gimmick (19%).
The research shows that consumers can more easily define organic claims than natural claims as shoppers are significantly more likely to consider organic products as being free of certain additives, including free of pesticides (53% vs 35% natural), preservative-free (46% vs 39%) and hormone-free (41% vs 30%).
“Natural claims are evolving to provide greater clarity about the benefits of these products as consumers increasingly demand total transparency from food and drink companies, as noted in Mintel’s 2018 Global Food and Drink Trend ‘Full Disclosure.’ Manufacturers, companies and brands are responding by providing more defined positioning, including substituting vague claims like ‘all natural’ in favour of more specific claims such as ‘GMO-free’ or ‘preservative-free.’ As such, focusing on free-from positioning appears to be a more direct means to communicate the inherent value of natural/organic products,” said Joel Gregoire, Associate Director, Canada Food and Drink Reports, at Mintel.
Despite the fact that some consumers are unclear about the perceived health benefits of natural and organic products, it seems consumers are adding them to their grocery carts more and more. Three in 10 (29%) shoppers say they are buying more natural foods and beverages in 2018 compared to a year ago—more than four times the percentage of consumers who say they are buying less (7%). Meanwhile, 28% of shoppers say they’re buying more organic foods and beverages this year compared to 11% who say they’re buying less.