Why customers prefer clean label products

Are you also sceptical about ingredients you do not understand? This study examines why people choose known ingredients over unknown ones.

2018.10.02 | Merete Elmann

Have you ever found yourself reading a product’s label just to see what it contains? Sure you did, most of us do at some point. As an increasing number of products reach the shelves, we check labels to figure out which one is healthier and - let’s be honest - hopefully tastier. But we are not the only ones who focus on the food’s labels. Manufacturers are trying to keep up with their clients’ preferences, so they are looking to improve their products’ perception by carefully choosing the ingredients.

Now, this raises an important question - what are the customers looking for when reading a label? This study tried to find out. Here is what it revealed.

By asking the participants to sort the ingredients of four products – vegetarian candy, dairy-free ice cream, plant-based sausage, and a protein drink – into ingredients that seem similar and those that do not, and then write comments to the piles of ingredients, the researchers identified how we appear to go about in categorising ingredients. In addition, they found that some of our perceptions could be influenced by the products’ presentation.

We sort ingredients according to what they are, what they do, and what we think of them. We seem to apply a kind of ‘what is known is natural, what is natural is good’ line of thought. In addition, we wonder whether sustainable food is tastier and whether healthy food is processed, and we assume it is the consistency that potato protein is used for, when we learnt it is all plant-based foods with potato protein.

However, some things are indifferent to the food’s presentation. We believe protein is harmless, filling, and we do not associate it with negative things. We think the flavours responsible for the food’s taste are natural and tasty if that is what they sound like. And we believe all variants of syrups and sugars are unhealthy.

One of the study’s most important findings is that what food producers think consumers do in sorting ingredients, is quite correct - according to what the so-called ‘clean label trend’ says: We dislike ingredients that sound processed and shy away from unknown ingredients, so being able to understand the food’s label is important to us. If we cannot identify an ingredient, we believe it is unnecessary and unhealthy.

This study’s findings suggest that we appreciate clean labels because they allow us to identify the food’s ingredients. The food manufacturers can make their products more appealing to the general public by clearly stating their ingredients.

Featured Author 
Jessica Aschemann-Witzel

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