Specifically, Ben Finch, vice president, and Bill Sherman, research director, went to the Supply Side West show, an annual gathering of CPG manufacturers, marketers and formulators looking for ingredient trends and innovations.

Foodmix was not the only company that had come to speak about clean labels, of course. Clean label is the food industry’s hottest topic in 2017, arguably bigger than the baby boomers’ “discovery” in 2016 of tens of millions of millennial consumers. And so multiple speakers had descended to The Strip to educate attendees about the aspects of clean label transformation, such as the regulatory, legal and third-party certification hurdles. Foodmix was given the opportunity to explain the phenomenon of clean labels through the unique, and largely unexamined, lens of brand love, and in the context of the tumultuous consumer food renaissance, now going on ten years and counting.

From our angle, and supported by consumer research we conducted earlier this year, cleaning up a food label is, in and of itself, rarely sufficient to creating brand love. Some definition here: “Brand love” is the enduring, emotional and measurable bond that some brands are able to create with their consumers. Why is brand love important? Because it drives positive behaviors and corporate KPIs. Our research shows that brand lovers are more likely to make repeat purchases, resist competitive offers, be receptive to brand extensions, and recommend a brand, compared to consumers for whom a brand is a favorite and well liked, but not loved.

Drawing from our work with clients’ clean label initiatives and proprietary research, we presented a number of insights for companies contemplating, or in the process of, cleaning up their food labels. First, it’s quickly becoming a table stake, a requirement to be in a consumer’s consideration set. Our research showed 58% of brand lovers agreeing with the statement, I make sure to look for food products that have a simple, short list of ingredients that I can understand, with no chemical or artificial ingredients

Second, clean label seekers, more than other consumers, are looking for authenticity in the food brands they buy. Authenticity can be an elusive term, and what feels authentic to one consumer may feel contrived to another. But, in general, cleaning up labels in a way that feels authentic, rather than being done just because other companies are doing it, can be compelling to consumers.

Third, as part of the food renaissance, consumers are more interested than ever in a brand’s history or story. Consumers are drawn to brands with unique stories: stories that are quirky or honest or inspirational or tied to a particular person, time or circumstance. As brands clean up their labels, the winning brands – those favored brands accorded the most love – will use the effort to build on, or enhance, a larger story that is unique to the brand.

Fourth, flavor and taste are the most loved attributes of consumers’ loved food brands. The research is unambiguous on this issue: Consumers are unwilling to trade flavor and taste for ingredients that are easier to pronounce. Another way of making the point is that, regardless of the level of a consumer’s interest in clean labels, loved foods will need to deliver on taste and flavor dimensions.

Conclusions? A clean label alone doesn’t create brand love. Consumers’ love is often because of many loved product qualities. We advised our audience to focus on clean label as one pillar, of multiple pillars, to creating brand love.

And we finished with several other recommendations to our audience. As clean labels are pursued – and who can argue with the trend? – think beyond the label. Think about the bigger picture, the full story and promise of your brand. If your labeling strategy aligns with a broader mission, it’s probably a good idea. If you are “cleaning up” the label because it is on a marketer’s checklist, think twice – or deeper. Brand love is bestowed on those brands that make true and lasting connections with those they serve.

Related Topics: Healthy INSIDER Podcast 132: Can A Clean Label Help You Achieve Brand Love?

Author: Bill Sherman
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