The “clean” concept has made significant inroads across the food system. Whether applied to meat, produce, grains or just plain living, clean has become a consumer purchase driver. With that in mind, Charleston|Orwig worked with two research partners, Maeve Webster of Menu Matters and Confidential Consumer to poll Americans about their perceptions—and food buying preferences—related to “clean” food labels.

Opinions vary with at least one exception—from manufacturer to government to farmers and restaurants—consumers see the entire food system as having at least some responsibility for clean food labels. Or, another way to look at it, clean and healthy food.

Consumer Perception Take-aways:

  1. America is divided—41% purchase clean labels; 48% unaware
  2. Highest interest—men
  3. Perception by age surprising—many claims ring true with 55 and older
  4. Purchase drivers—health leads the pack
  5. Responsibility for clean—brands and government

Divided America—the committed and the unaware

More than ever, America is stratified into interest groups and consumer segments. We have seen this with other research on food labels. Americans with a high interest in food claims apply that attentiveness to multiple areas. The clean label concept is no different. While almost half of Americans have no tie to the clean label concept, another significant percentage actively seek products with that label designation.

Today, younger consumers now purchase more products with clean labels. As statistics reveal from other questions, though, those percentages may shift.

Skepticism despite interest

While about half of Americans have at least some interest in clean labels, they seem to lack confidence in the content of those labels. The 29% indicated here who find label claims believable mirrors the percentage from another study C|O conducted last year that asked consumers to rate how many food companies do a good job on labels—not many.

Who buys most versus who intends to buy more

Mature consumers—55 and up—have shown high interest in health-related topics. Research shows, for example, that this demographic is curious about functional foods (i.e., options that deliver, or claim to deliver, specific benefits such as better sleep, faster recovery from workouts or greater mental acuity). If we segment 65 and up, 50% intend to buy more clean label products. The percentage who intend to buy drops greatly among younger groups.

This older group also indicates higher agreement with clean label drivers, such as not trusting ingredients, wariness of artificial ingredients and a strong desire for easy-to-understand labels.

Why purchase? You guessed it—health!

Responsibility—a statistic worthy of concern

When asked who bears the greatest responsibility for providing clean labels, research respondents listed food companies first followed closely by government. With groups ranging from farmers to hospitals to restaurants also named, it’s clear that America expects the entire soil-to-dinner-plate food system to take on responsibility for high-quality food.

C|O Insights—a trend that creates opportunity

People now care—and know—what the cow ate that made the milk that made the yogurt that is in their breakfast parfaits. And so on across the food system. No matter where you are in the value chain—farmer to processor to manufacturer to retailer to restaurant—food is under greater scrutiny than ever. The team at C|O focuses on food and ag. We understand the dynamics at play and are ready to help your organization, company or brand succeed in this exciting time of tumultuous change.

For more details, watch our Five in 15 Webinar on “Consumers and “Clean” Labels”.

Published On: May 29th, 2019Categories: Campaigns and Communication

C.O.nxt Insight.

Our team of subject matter experts focuses on food and agriculture—farm field to processing to entrée on a plate. We can help you build a new brand, protect an old one or target customers to foster sales. Let’s talk when the time is right to handle your next strategic marketing and communications challenge: Marcy Tessmann,


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