The 2016 election taught us a lot about our country. We learned that there were large groups of people who felt unappreciated and ignored for many years, and people who felt that their voices were not heard in this year’s election.
I can boil this down just two single talking points: apathy and transparency.
Apathy: We learned that our vote matters, regardless which side of the aisle you’re on. There are some who spoke up for the first time ever and others who decided to stay home on election day.
This is similar to the way many consumers view the food they eat. While most take for granted the products that they consume, others diligently read product labels. We as consumers frequently overlook the fact that we vote for the items on retailer shelves with our dollars — the money we spend to buy the products we want. There’s a lot of power in that statement. A lot of retailers in large CPG companies spend a lot of money and work really hard to get us to buy items they want to sell. Frequently, this includes products that are not nutritionally sound. As consumers, we can dictate our preferences to retailers in the form of the products we choose to buy. For example, if shoppers chose to only purchase organic produce, then retailers would only stock organic produce. The same holds true in every category and with every retailer.
Consumers can also be apathetic about their choices including the ingredients found in their favorite brands. There is a big difference in the way the ingredients are produced and the nutritional value they offer in the end product. There’s also big a difference in where the ingredients are produced. Think of fine wines. We have all heard stories about how the grapes absorb certain characteristics unique to where they are grown. The same holds true for the foods we eat. This has a lot to do with why some produce is plump and juicy with vivid colors while similar items can be dull and bland in appearance at other retailers. Savvy consumers focus on learning more about the food we eat and what the labels are telling us.
The majority of consumers are searching for healthier alternatives at restaurants and on their favorite retailer’s shelves. 66%* of consumers eat healthier now than before. This accounts for the huge increases in both the organic and non-GMO segments, up 16% and 17% percent respectively. Most categories are flat and declining in the absence of organic in non-GMO products. They are responsible for the sustainable growth across all categories in all channels.
The term natural use to imply a group of products that were healthier and prepared closer to nature, less processed — the way nature intended. Today companies put the word natural on their products in hopes of attracting new consumers. The term natural has become so diluted and abused that some companies are actually being sued for using it. I personally prefer the term clean label. Even that is being misused and abused. To me, clean label includes products with simple easy to pronounce ingredients that can all be found in nature — ethically produced with no artificial (man-made) chemicals or processes.
Transparency: Depending on which side of the aisle you are on, the election was both won and lost largely on huge amounts of information that was less than credible.
The same is true with the food we eat. Transparency has become a buzzword in the industry. To some brands, transparency is removing artificial colors or perhaps even antibiotics from their products. Most of this is simply a marketing gimmick.
Committed natural consumers understand the difference and know how to look beyond the hype and the rhetoric. They understand that the way a product is produced can also impact its nutritional value — for example, high heat can destroy many of the nutrients. They understand that most products that are overly processed can dramatically reduce their nutritional value. Some companies take a single grain, break it apart, and replace the natural nutrients with synthetic or artificial nutrients.
There’s a lot of confusion around natural products and the many claims being made. For example, most consumers think non-GMO is a healthy alternative to organic. This is not true. Non-GMO simply means that the seed used to produce the crop is not genetically modified. Organic includes seeds that are not genetically modified that are grown in the absence of herbicides and pesticides.
If you are what you eat, then you would want to consume the most nutritious products available. Our bodies were designed to efficiently metabolize natural products. While the science is unclear, the rise of food allergies and food related illness and complications has risen dramatically in recent years.
So what is real transparency? Is it a collection of claims on the product or does it go well beyond that? Real transparency is a clear and complete traceability of all of the ingredients included in a product. It includes honest communication about the process used to make the product — from farm to shelf. Some companies even offer the ability to know exactly how the raw ingredients were grown all the way from the planting through the harvest, in addition to how the ingredients made it into your favorite brands. For at least one company, transparency includes cameras showing how the product is made throughout the entire process viewable and online 24/7.
The point is that our vote matters at both the ballot box and on retailer shelves. We need to take nothing for granted. We need to stop waiting for someone else to speak on our behalf. We need to make sure that our voices are heard and that our wishes are understood by our elected officials in every state and in Washington, by the brands we purchase, by the retailers we shop, and by the farmers who work hard to feed us. When we don’t vote or speak up, we only have ourselves to blame.
Source: Nielsen Answers, Wellness Track, Total U.S. – All Outlets Combined, 52-weeks ending 1/23/2016
Daniel Lohman, CPSA is the Organic and CPG Industry Strategic Advisor, certified at the highest level of category management proficiency: Certified Professional Strategic Advisor.
Daniel is a trusted and respected member of the natural community who assists companies giving them a sustainable competitive advantage helping them compete head-to-head with the most sophisticated big brands. His company, Category Management Solutions ( ), provides innovative ideas, actionable insights and strategic solutions for companies interested in gaining a significant competitive advantage.
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NOTE: The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.