What can the US learn from Europe? Clean label and subtle nutrition, says Mintel

Mintel: European firms are better at positioning products as 'better-for-you' without screaming health and ramming it down consumers' throats

US bakery, snack and cereal manufacturers should look to Europe for lessons on clean label and better-for-you products that don’t scream health, says Mintel’s innovation head.

While there were a handful of mega trends and challenges impacting manufacturers across the globe – sugar concerns and positive nutrition both perfect examples – David Jago said there remained plenty of differences between markets, particularly the US and Europe. 

From a consumer stand-point, Europeans tended to take a more holistic approach to health and nutrition, Jago told BakeryandSnacks.com ahead of IFT 2014.

“US consumers tend to think less along the lines of balanced nutrition than the European consumer. When a US consumer is watching their diet, they look for low fat, low sugar and low calorie solutions, whereas a European consumer would just cut out or eat less cakes and snacks, for example - it’s a more holistic approach,” he said.

However, he said there would be a step-change in the US towards more holistic nutrition concepts.

Healthy foods: Overt versus subtle

“There are clear lessons to be learned from strong brands in Europe that don’t talk overtly about health, but talk about being ‘better for you’,” he said. While there was evidence of this in the US, Jago said it could go “quite a bit further”.

“It comes down to overt versus subtle – the fact you can position better-for-you without screaming health and ramming it down your throat. European brands are better than US companies at doing that.”

Particularly in the bakery, snacks and cereal sector, a more subtle nutrition positioning resonated better with consumers, he said.

Cleaning up labels

Another big learning from Europe was around clean label, Jago said.

“The clean label concept is nowhere near as developed in the US as Europe, and that’s true for all categories, right across the board and not just bakery, snacks and cereals,” he said.

Artificial colors and flavors was an area where differences were particularly clear, he added. “These colors and flavors are far more prevalent in the US compared to Europe. The pressure to remove them in Europe has come from retailers, but we haven’t seen that pressure from US retailers. If Walmart got serious with that, it would have a fairly major impact,” he said.

Use and acceptance of preservatives also had differences, Jago said. “In the European market, there has been a fair bit of focus on removing preservatives and accepting shorter shelf life.” However, he said if the same level of focus happened in the US, there would be huge problems because of lengthy and complex distribution channels.

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