Fewer ingredients is the new selling point for FMCG foods
Food companies tout simplicity as consumers seek to recognise what they eat...
Scientists at Hershey spent a year and a half working to cut the number of ingredients from its classic chocolate syrup. The company’s marketers wanted the product’s label to be short and sweet. By this spring, it succeeded and launched Simply 5 with just five ingredients, down from eleven.
Food giants such as ConAgra and General Mills are winnowing their ingredient lists to as few elements as possible. Some snack bars boast they are just fruit. Tortilla chips are nothing more than corn, salt and sunflower oil.
Instead of burying ingredient lists in the fine print on the back of the package, food manufacturers are trumpeting simpler formulas prominently on the label’s front.
It's okay if it's in my kitchen
More people care deeply about what’s in their food and insist on recognising the ingredients. The litmus test for many consumers is whether those ingredients might appear in their own kitchen cupboards, food scientists and marketers say. For the clarity, people are willing to take some extra sugar or fat.
On most packaged foods, consumers should be able to count the ingredients on two hands. “Up to 10 covers most things,” says Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation for Innova Market Insights.
Packaged Facts, the food and beverage market research firm, found that 87% of consumers said they looked at nutrition labels and that 67% of them preferred groceries with fewer and simpler ingredients in a study last year.
Nutrition labels have become a contested area in consumer marketing, as companies have scrambled to develop healthier foods and offer more transparency about their ingredients.
PepsiCo removed the sweetener aspartame from its diet colas last year, but earlier this summer, decided reintroduce it due to consumer complaints on the new formula. Vermont’s stricter labelling requirements have pressured companies such as General Mills to explain on labels that their products contain GMOs.
There is a reason artificial ingredients are so ubiquitous: They work to improve everything from texture to colour to shelf life of packaged foods. But many consumers are seeking more natural alternatives.
High fructose corn syrup has long been a major ingredient in Hershey’s syrup. For its new Simply 5 formula, however, regular sugar alone didn’t work because of its tendency to produce a gritty texture, says Shawn Houser-Fedor, director of global snacks product development.
Scientists considered brown rice syrup and even agave, but neither option offered the best flavour when combined with cocoa, she says.
The company finally combined cane sugar with an invert cane syrup, commonly used in food manufacturing, which is fructose and glucose dissolved in a liquid that helps ingredients retain their smoothness.
Consumer panels of over 200 people found the syrup acceptable as a listed ingredient. A “sensory analysis” group of about a dozen trained professional tasters also found the simplified formulation close in taste to the original, says Houser-Fedor.
Simple ingredients on nice packaging has often been a marketing tool of smaller or pricier brands. Caron Proschan saw a business idea when she reached for a stick of gum after her salad at lunch. “At that moment, I saw the contrast between my healthy lunch and this bright, neon gum I was chewing,” says Proschan, who previously co-founded a beauty products company called Truth Art Beauty.
She launched Simply Gum in 2014 with flavours such as fennel licorice and ginger and a handful of ingredients including a natural chicle base made from the sap of a tree. Its packaging isn’t pinks, purple or sparkly.
Photographs of a maple leaf or a cinnamon stick on a white background make the front of the $3 box. “Gum is a social item,” says Proschan, so the packaging and look of the brand was important. “People pull it out at parties and on dates.”
This past June, General Mills' Larabar snack bar line launched Larabar Bites. The bites—available in flavours such as double chocolate brownie and cherry chocolate chip—resemble truffles and contain few ingredients which are prominently displayed on the front of the package.
Chocolate macaroon bites, the pouch says, are “made with dates, fair trade chocolate chips, almonds, coconut, coconut flour, that’s it!”
Some customers have discovered the downside to foods that don’t contain preservatives or emulsifiers.
Angie Wilcox,a 36-year old reading specialist at Kemp Mill Elementary School in Wheaton, Md, purchased Tessemae’s Salad Dressing while on a health kick. To her surprise, its olive oil base and lack of common emulsifiers, such as xanthan gum, meant it would routinely coagulate in the refrigerator. Directions on the label suggested running it under warm water before using, so that it would liquefy.
“I didn’t want to sit there and run my salad dressing under warm water to use it,” says Wilcox, who switched to using her own olive oil and vinegar in salads and stopped buying Tessemae’s.
The company this year added a sunflower oil to its olive oil blend for the salad dressing to remain fluid while refrigerated.
“We needed to figure out a way to solve this congealing story,” saysTodd Fletcher, chief marketing officer at Tessemae’s All Natural in Essex, Md, adding that they also switched to organic ingredients. This year, monthly sales are increasing about 45% ahead of last year, he says.
New ads for Haagen-Dazs ice cream in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles show a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. “5 ingredients, one incredible indulgence” read ads, which also list the recipe of cream, milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
Of its 32 ice cream flavours, Haagen-Dazs offers five flavours that contain only five ingredients. They are: chocolate, vanilla, coffee, strawberry and green tea.
Haagen-Dazs tried promoting the simple ingredient concept once before. Its ‘Five’ series of seven ice cream flavours, launched in 2009, eventually fizzled because its lower fat content wasn’t popular among consumers, says Alex Placzek, marketing director for Haagen-Dazs.
Now, it is promoting the five-ingredients concept again with the full 15 to 17 grams of fat per half-cup serving. Consumers reach for Haagen Dazs to indulge, Placzek says. “We are seeing the largest shift in American food habits since World War II,” he says. “Consumers are interested in the quality, origin and simplicity of ingredients.”
Not always the full picture
Dietitians say it is worth reading full ingredient lists carefully because some components highlighted as ingredients on the front of a package may be a partial list.
“The front of a package is there for marketing purposes and may not tell the whole story,” says registered dietitian Tamara Melton, who is a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
This fall, ConAgra’s Bertolli Frozen Meals is rolling out a new, reformulated line of meals that feature a shorter ingredient list that reads more like a recipe, says spokeswoman Lanie Friedman.
Italian Sausage and Rigatoni will eliminate preservatives BHA, BHT and citric acid as well as pasta enrichments—such as niacin, riboflavin and folic acid that lengthen the ingredient list. But, the sausage in a Bertolli frozen meal, for instance, contains corn syrup and dextrose.
Source: Wall Street Journal