Clean Food Label Claims are Confusing Consumers

Are Big Food companies intentionally obscuring processed food labels to make it more difficult for consumers to grasp?  If so, they should realize that this practice is backfiring…

A recent survey found that a large majority of U.S. consumers are confused by  ingredients labels and claims on processed food items. And that confusion is spelling lost profits for Big Food:  More than one-third of consumers refuse to part with their money and purchase food items due to label obfuscation.  Additionally, a majority of consumers reported that they would actually switch brands if they could find a food manufacturer that made the ingredients labels clear and easy to understand.  And over half of consumers are actually willing to pay more money for food that has clear, easy to understand labels.



Survey: A majority of consumers are confused by food ingredients



Overview of Findings

  • A large majority of consumers (83%) are confused at least some of the time about food ingredients, and 64% are willing to switch brands if they find one with ingredients they better understand, according to a survey from Label Insight.


  • It found 35% of consumers do not buy foods if they find the ingredients are confusing, and 54% are willing to pay more for a product with ingredients they understand.


  • In addition, if manufacturers provide easy-to-understand definitions for the ingredients in their products, 84% of those surveyed said they would have more trust in food companies.


Food label claims like “clean,” “healthy” and “natural” are often considered by consumers to be confusing

This latest report provides another layer of motivation for food companies to clean up ingredient labels, or at least to give consumers better information about what’s in their products. The trend toward cleaner labels – or shorter, simpler ingredient lists – has become the new norm in the food industry, according to Innova Market Insights, which found nearly one in five tracked products were positioned with a clean label in 2014.

However, few shoppers understand what “clean label” really means, and terms like ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ intended to communicate the idea are poorly understood and often loosely defined by manufacturers.


Consumers demanding clarity and transparency on their food labels

The term “natural” also has been a focal point of litigation in recent years as consumers and public health advocates demand simple, clean ingredients lists and transparency in marketing claims, ingredients and processing. Several food companies including Dole, General Mills and Post Holdings have faced lawsuits. In the Post lawsuit, for example, plaintiffs took issue with the company’s use of the phrases “100% Natural Whole Grain Wheat” and a “Natural Source of Fiber” because the cereal’s wheat ingredient come from a crop that farmers treat with a synthetic herbicide.


This is a new day

Nearly half of Americans (46%) already research ingredients on their mobile phones while shopping if they find something confusing, so there is an opportunity for food manufacturers to make this information more directly accessible; if not actually printed on-pack, then perhaps by providing a link on the product itself. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed said they were at least “somewhat interested” in technology that allows them to access detailed ingredient information on their mobile phones.

With consumers shunning artificial colors and flavors, and trending toward products with fewer ingredients, food manufacturers would be wise to be as open and honest with shoppers as possible. The consumer is watching.