What’s Next for Natural?

La Croix sparkling water in the official JT Mega mini fridge

Like many other office kitchens, the official JT Mega mini fridge is slowly being taken over by La Croix sparkling water. Once a refuge for artificially-sweetened soft drinks, the shelves now burst under the weight of “pamplemousse”, “mure pepino”, and “cerise limon.” And like most new beverage items on the market, each can proudly proclaims “100% natural flavors.”

Replacing artificial ingredients with natural ones has shown positive sales results across all food and beverage categories.  So imagine our surprise seeing a report by food and beverage flavor developer, FONA International, proclaiming “The jig is up for manufacturers hoping to win [consumer] confidence with a natural claim.”

While we adamantly reject the notion that “natural” is losing meaning with consumers, it does raise an interesting perspective about how we maximize the effectiveness of “natural” claims moving forward.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

First, we have to understand why consumers were drawn to “natural” in the first place. In its recent report, The Hidden Drivers Behind Natural & Organic, Technomic states one of the key reasons consumers gravitated towards “natural” was because it provided an efficient mental shortcut:

Today's consumers demand transparency around each step their food takes on the way to their plate...across the spectrum of health, taste, sustainability, social responsibility and more. So how can you give consumers that much information without overwhelming them? By using umbrella terms. Terms such as 'natural' and 'organic' convey many things to consumers by perceptually encompassing a wide variety of other health claims and benefits.

In short, “all natural” became an easy way to convey both higher quality and health attributes.

But without a consistent definition of umbrella terms between the FDA and the USDA, brands began using the same words to describe various farming techniques, animal husbandry practices and ingredient parameters. Which unfortunately led to mass confusion: 82% of consumers said they confuse natural and organic at least some of the time1.

So one can see why FONA International would argue companies should be using more single-attribute claims like “no preservatives,” rather than umbrella terms like “natural”, when marketing to consumers to minimize confusion.

Which begs the question, “which one is right?”

WHAT WE THINK

You need both. Umbrella terms and single-attribute claims serve different purposes for different consumers.

We know umbrella terms provide a very necessary mental shortcut for consumers looking to delineate between conventional and non-conventional food and beverage options. And for many people, seeing a “natural” claim is all they want (or need) to make a purchase decision. For consumers demanding a deeper level of detail, single-attribute claims function as proof-points for the umbrella claim and demonstrate a higher degree of transparency.

WHAT’S NEXT

You can effectively use both umbrella terms and single-attribute claims in marketing communication by building a messaging hierarchy:

Start with the umbrella term 

Umbrella terms (natural, organic*, clean, simple) should be featured most prominently on the package/marketing communication. Its primary purpose is to help a customer more easily distinguish this as a non-conventional product.

Field Trip beef jerky packaging featuring prominent umbrella terms, 'all natural' and 'gluten free'.

 

Follow up with additional single-attribute claims 

Next, highlight single-attribute claims that are particularly important to your category and/or target audience.

Field Trip beef jerky packaging featuring supporting single-attribute claims

Finish with umbrella term clarification

Lastly, provide additional clarity as to what production and/or ingredient practices back up the product’s classification as the umbrella term.

Field Trip beef jerky packaging featuring the clarification of the displayed umbrella terms.

*Note: while the FDA and USDA have strict guidelines on how organic is labeled, many consumers are either unaware or confused as to what it means. As such, we classify it as an “umbrella” term in this post. 

1 “Natural: 2018 Trends and Insights.” FONA International. 2018.

 

Waste Not, Want Not

Though food waste has been a hot topic across the industry over the last several months, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more passionate group on the issue than this year’s Esca Bona 2017 attendees. This past October, JT Mega joined nearly 200 food entrepreneurs, agriculturists, venture capitalists and local farmers in Austin, TX to listen and learn about the group’s passionate vision for a reimagined food system.

The National Resources Defense Council reports that Americans waste 40% of all food that is purchased. In fact, each person tosses a whopping 300 pounds of food in the trash annually; a trend that food and technology entrepreneurs at Esca Bona are seeking to solve. Like Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz, two San Francisco-based homebrewers who loved craft beer but hated the volume of wasted “spent” grain.

Historically, spent grain has created a symbiotic relationship between brewers and farmers, as the latter uses the byproduct for soil enrichment and animal feed. But the explosion of craft breweries in the area made that relationship less practical for rural farmers.

It wasn’t until Kurzrock and Schwartz began exploring spent grain’s potential as a food ingredient that ReGrained was born.

ReGrained was born when two San Francisco-based homebrewers began exploring spent grain’s potential as a food ingredient.

We couldn’t help but ask ourselves, how many other food and beverage manufacturers are throwing away potential consumer product innovations?

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Food waste isn’t a new topic for the food industry, but it’s been largely framed as a consumer-behavior issue. But food and beverage manufacturers also play a significant role in this growing epidemic.

Historically, animal feed and land use have been the go-to solutions for waste products, accounting for nearly 85% of all manufacturer waste today1. But as the founders of ReGrained learned, transportation constraints is now the most cited barrier for large manufacturers in donating and recycling waste products.

This challenge provides Big Food with an opportunity to uncover–and even collaborate–with food entrepreneurs on new product innovations.

WHAT WE THINK

It’s time to start viewing food and beverage manufacturing byproducts as innovative ingredients, rather than waste.

This shift in perspective is not only good for business, but demonstrates a differentiated level of corporate responsibility to today’s increasingly conscious consumer.

WHAT’S NEXT

Need some inspiration on where to start? Check out these three companies for their innovative approach to food waste.

Coconut Jerky

As the demand for coconut water began to skyrocket with consumers, so did the volume of wasted coconut flesh discarded at production facilities. The creators of Coconut Jerky turned this byproduct–which is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plenty of fiber–into the first vegan beef-jerky alternative, with satiating flavors like Chili Lime and Ginger Teriyaki.

The creators of Coconut Jerky turned this byproduct into the first vegan beef-jerky alternative.

Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise

With a rising demand for vegan products, Sir Kensington’s set out to come up with a mayonnaise alternative that didn’t rely on processed starches or pea/soy powders. After several failed ideas, the innovation team turned to aquafaba: the liquid byproduct from cooking chickpeas in water. Sir Kensington’s partnered with a New York-based hummus manufacturer who agreed to sell them their waste stream, and the country’s first food-safe supply chain of aquafaba was born.

With a rising demand for vegan products, Sir Kensington's set out to come up with a mayonnaise alternative that didn’t rely on processed starches or pea/soy powders.

Uglies

Millions of pounds of produce are passed over each year by farmers and food companies because of mild cosmetic flaws or irregular sizes that most manufacturing plants aren’t equipped to process. So Pennsylvania snack purveyor Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips created Uglies, kettle-cooked potato chips made from rejected potatoes.

Pennsylvania snack purveyor Dieffenbach's Potato Chips created Uglies, kettle-cooked potato chips made from rejected potatoes.

 

1Analysis of U.S. Food Waste Among Food Manufacturers, Retailers and Restaurants.” Food Waste Reduction Alliance: A Joint Project by the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association. 2017.

Lessons From Organic Water

This past July, Vermont businessman Adam Lazar celebrated a remarkable achievement: getting USDA organic certification on his new line of bottled water, Asarasi.

Asarasi; the USDA's first certified-organic water

Asarasi; the USDA’s first certified-organic water

Yep, you read that right. Organic water.

Because water has no carbon molecules and is therefore technically inorganic, the USDA has previously excluded water as an ingredient making organic claims. But Lazar’s company found a loophole: because the water is naturally filtered through, and extracted from, living maple trees, Asarasi meets the definition of organic.

Quite possibly more remarkable than Lazar’s new certification is the level of customer demand. According to its 2016 Bottled Water Category Report, Mintel found a whopping 25% of Americans say their ideal bottled water would be organic.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

While the customer demand for organic continues to increase, so does the confusion around what organic really means. In its 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic found that when it comes to “natural” vs. “organic,” the majority of consumers understand these labelings as umbrella terms for better-for-you.

Consumers see "organic" and "all natural" as umbrella terms

WHAT WE THINK

Brands should go beyond “natural” and “organic” to better communicate the value of better-for-you products to customers.  

It’s not to say that “organic” and “natural” do not hold value; these umbrella terms are still the most widely recognized and sought-after by customers. Rather, brands have an opportunity to bolster their credibility by providing additional clarity around these terms to ensure customers can make more informed choices.

WHAT’S NEXT

Customers have become much more savvy in their ability to pick out meaningful claims vs. marketing fluff when it comes to their food and beverage purchases. As food marketers we must consider the following when crafting better-for-you narratives:

Be judicious

If a brand or product narrowly meets a specific better-for-you classification–or falls within it due to a little-known loophole–proceed with caution. We risk jeopardizing customer trust when we exploit technicalities in the labeling process.

Be specific

Provide context to broad claims by getting specific about your practices and production methods. Rather than just using “antibiotic free” as a claim, provide details on whether it’s a judicious use of antibiotics, no human antibiotics, or no antibiotics ever.

Be consistent

Customer confusion occurs when manufacturers use different terms to describe the same thing, such as using “natural” and “all natural” interchangeably. Create tightly defined parameters to determine whether an item meets a specific classification, but also enact strict guidelines on the words used to describe them.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

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