that knowledge that brands have not fully
bridged. Consumers are empowered, yes.
They have tools, yes. And they have some
knowledge. But they don’t know how to
build anything yet. They must be taught
and instructed by industry.
In my opinion, the steps within industry
to successfully bridge this gap are:
• Innovation and technology;
• Education and dissemination;
• Collaboration and partnership.
In the face of a rising tide in consumer
confusion about health, consumers are returning to what they know: simple, fewer
ingredients, less processed foods, and no
artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners—
also, less sugar and salt. This burgeoning
trend toward “simple” has also fueled the
growth in structured diet regimens or phi-losophies including paleo, vegan, gluten-free, organic, etc. This type of structured
diet helps people consume within boundaries and make sense of the health advice
madness. Meal kits and delivery programs
also play to this audience which wants to
eat healthier but doesn’t have time to shop
or doesn’t like to cook.
I believe there are signs all over the
place that consumers are moving from an
era of Doctor Care (1970s and 1980s) to
an era of Self Care (1990s and 2000s) and
now to an era of Custom Care (2010 and
beyond). Frankly, the future is all about
custom healthcare solutions that may be
dictated by an individual’s DNA, genetics,
lifestyle habits and daily activity level.
Connection to Clean
Clean label, sustainability and transparency are all terms that marketers have
coined to “pre-empt” or own this new
type of messaging. The problem lies in
that most consumers don’t think or talk
this way. A recent study indicated that
78% of consumers don’t understand
what “clean label” means. The same
study showed that consumer confusion
between organic and non-GMO is ram-
pant. Yet clean label claims continue to
populate packaging at retail and online
with almost 25% of U.S. product labels
featuring clean label claims, according to
Innova Market Research.
In essence, clean label, clear label, sustainable, transparent, non-GMO, and
many other marketing terms become consumer shorthand for “healthier and better for you.”That said, the vast majority of
consumers don’t really understand and/
or differentiate between these terms as
they relate to products in the marketplace.
Consumers hear the marketing language,
and research shows that they are open to
new ways of thinking about and purchasing cleaner brands, but consumers do not
yet grasp the significance of these descrip-tors or how they relate to everyday health
and wellness for them personally. Consumers are left largely to grasp at straws
for meaning and relevance.
So the “good news” is that consumers are indeed ready to embrace “cleaner
product” initiatives. Certainly their aspirations have been heightened, but the
“bad” or at least“cautionary news” is that
the education process behind clean label
initiatives has just begun, and there is a
long road ahead for brands to define and
differentiate themselves based on these
Smart brands that understand this will
capitalize on positive consumer senti-
• Researching and defining“marketing
language” as it relates to specific, product-
related features and benefits;
• Fleshing out terms and messaging that
consumers can relate to readily and begin
to associate with their brands over time.
It Takes A Village
Brand building in today’s volatile and
competitive marketplace is a complex
and expensive, valuable process. In my
opinion, the responsibility for building
successful brands needs to be shared.
Because increasing brand awareness and
educating consumers about features and
benefits and scientific support is everyone’s business.
Clearly, both manufacturers and suppliers play a key role. As an industry, we are
moving from individual silos to increased
joint collaboration. It’s not just about clean
finished products; it’s about clean sourcing and supply chain practices as well.
For raw material providers and marketers, it’s not just about selling ingredients
at $X per kilo. Branded ingredient suppliers must add value and embrace a new,
more turnkey role. In turn, manufacturers
and brand owners must be willing to pay
the price for value-added ingredients with
a pedigree of quality and proven scientific support. This goes back to my earlier
statement about bridging the consumer
gap between tactical steps and integrated,
custom health solutions.
Modern marketers are learning that audience segmentation plays a critical role
in product success. Consumer audiences
are increasingly differentiated and display
varyious buying behaviors and needs. For
clean label products specifically, and custom health solutions generally, research
shows that Millennials (ages 18-33) are
driving the trends and stimulating demand. This group is all about custom solutions—having options—and they demand
more sustainable, transparent products
It’s a new and confusing world out there.
But it’s also an exciting one for marketers
who are willing to jump in and invest in
consumer education and awareness. The
marketplace is reflecting a perfect storm of
new opportunities. Consumer 2.0 is waiting. It’s your move.
Jeff Hilton is co-founder and chief marketing officer of brandhive, which strategically
positions and builds brands within the natural products industry. He has more than 35
years of broad-based business experience,
including more than 20 within the natural
products industry. For more information: