As Consumer Trust in Packaged Foods Erodes, Freshness and Simplicity Reign

Mallory Diamond, Associate Director, Marketing & Biz Dev
August 14, 2018

It’s a complicated time to be a human being who needs to eat.

We live in a time when roughly 40% of American adults and 19% of youths have obesity, diagnoses of anaphylactic reactions to food allergies have risen 377% in the past decade, and 30.3 million of us have diabetes (9.4% of the population), while a staggering 84.1 million have prediabetes (33.9% of the population). Though heart disease is still the #1 cause of death, the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium per day.

It’s no longer a surprise to hear there might be weed killer in our oatmeal, parasites in our salad, and salmonella in our breakfast cereal. Food safety issues seem widespread and near constant, with product recalls getting top billing on our news feeds. At the same time, these news feeds show confusing contradictions: old standbys like the vitamin regimen and other sage diet advice may be completely ineffective, or worse, harmful.

And the marketing jargon’s not exactly helping. Skepticism of healthy food claims like “all natural” is rising. Roughly 60% of consumers don’t trust products labeled “superfood,” and just 40% agree only somewhat that they trust health claims on food packaging.

We are seeing an erosion of consumer trust in the food system, and it’s clear that packaged, processed and prepared foods, in particular, are catching the brunt of it. But all of this distrust, confusion, worry and frustration in the marketplace has created a clear white space for food products and brands of a certain type. If you can authentically claim freshness and simplicity, well, get ready for some really good news.

In Mintel’s “Better for You Eating Trends” report released this month, a survey of roughly 1,800 consumers revealed freshness is far and away the attribute most important to consumers when making food decisions, more than low/no sugar, low/no salt, protein content, low/no fat, non-GMO, organic, hormone-free, plant-based and gluten-free.

When you look at the data across age, gender and other demographic groups, freshness is the top priority. So, whether you’re 18 and feeling invincible, making healthy food choices for general well-being, or you’re 65 and keeping tabs on your diet for disease prevention, fresh food is king—and its grip on the throne is solid.

Consumers’ increasing demand for freshness has driven a 15% increase in perimeter-of-the-store sales in the past five years, and nearly 60% of shoppers agree that items on the perimeter of the store are healthier than packaged and frozen foods. (To enhance perceptions of health and score some brownie veggie points, packaged food and center-store brands should explore cross-promotions and adjacencies with fresh produce.)

The Mintel report also shows that consumers intuitively perceive products with fewer ingredients—especially with ingredients they can pronounce — to be substantially healthier. Marketers should keep things simple, favoring messaging that tells shoppers their products are made like they would have made it themselves in their home kitchens.

No doubt it’s a complicated time to be in food. But if you keep it fresh and simple, it’s also a time of tremendous and untapped opportunity.

Better for You Eating Trends – US – August 2018, Mintel Reports
Perimeter of the Store – US – July 2017, Mintel Reports

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About the author
Mallory Diamond, Associate Director, Marketing & Biz Dev
Mallory is a core leader of our growth and communications team, with a focus on brand strategy, content marketing and new client relationships. She is also experienced in social media/PR strategy and campaign development, with work recognized by the Effie Awards.
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