Market View: Food Marketers Are Accentuating the Negative

As the food industry increases 'free-from' claims, consumers appear to value positive statements.


By John Stanton, Food Processing

Jan 02, 2018


Those who have read this column know I am vexed by the change the food industry has made from presenting positive attributes of products (such as high in protein) to putting negative claims on food labels (no additives).


I’m not sure consumers are really looking for all the negative things the industry now calls out on the labels. If they are, so be it. Rather, I feel the industry is responding to a noisy subgroup. And I think in some cases food companies are responding to focus groups as an indication of what consumers want.


Having conducted literally hundreds of focus groups, I know two things to be facts: the results can vary widely between groups on the same topic, and consumers within a group can be significantly influenced by the more boisterous group members, especially with social implications. The misuse of focus groups is rampant and should be a topic of an article to itself.


My recent research shows that what food companies put on their labels has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. The sample size for the number of labels analyzed in 2006 was 1,711 labels and in 2016 we analyzed 2,150 labels.


For example, the number of dairy labels (all dairy products) claiming “high in vitamins and minerals” dropped by 62 percent between 2006 and 2016, while in the same period the claim “hormone free” increased more than 300 percent*.  Dairy labels with the GMO-free claim increased by more than 1000 percent while "added calcium" was down 61 percent.


In my opinion it appears that the industry is telling consumers all the things that the products are not and not building a positive image of the food itself. The more important question is how well do these label claims jive with what consumers value in food?


Euromonitor, the world’s leading independent provider of strategic market research, has both data and analysis on thousands of products and services around the world. It measured the Preferred Food Attributes and Ingredients of about 1,800 U.S. consumers in 2017. The most frequently mentioned attribute was “value for money” (mentioned by roughly 50 percent of consumers) and the third most mentioned was “low price” (35 percent). Yet, according to Mintel Global New Products Database, which tracks what's on product labels, less than 5 percent of all labels mention economy...


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