Food Additives: Is less more even when more is the whole idea?

Discussion
Sep 21, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

It looks as if food manufacturers really are listening and acting. According to research from the MINTEL Global New Products Database (GNPD), one in every four (24 percent) new food and drink launches in the UK so far this year claimed to be ‘additive- and preservative-free’ – up from just 8 percent in 2004.

So far this year, almost 1,000 new products that claim to contain no additives or preservatives hit supermarket shelves, up from the 800 or so launched during all of 2006. ‘Additive- and preservative-free’ became the number one health claim in the food and drinks market, overtaking ‘low fat’ (including low, no and reduced fat products) in the UK in 2006 for the first time ever.

Spokesman David Jago, director of Mintel GNPD Custom Solutions, explained, “Manufacturers are tapping into the nation’s growing desire for a more natural lifestyle, as consumers take greater interest in what really goes into their food. The assumption is that it is better for you to avoid additives and preservatives, as many Brits are concerned about the effect they may have on their health. Many parents also worry about how some additives affect their children’s behavior.”

As The Times reported, Mintel’s findings were released just weeks after a Southampton University study confirming, for the first time, links between some additives and hyperactive behavior in children. The Food Standards Agency responded to the study by advising parents to read labels more carefully but, following criticism, is about to review that and consider recommending an official ban. One particular objection is based on the fact that many sweets and bakery items are sold loose and therefore without ingredient information.

But at least from the Mintel survey, it does appear that manufacturers are taking note and action without being forced to. As more people focus on lifestyle issues and the factors affecting them, there seems to be clear recognition that it may be best to keep food simple.

Discussion
Questions: Do you see the ‘additive and preservative-free’ food movement as
a growing trend or another passing fad? Do you think this movement will hurt
demand for functional foods? How do you think retailers and brands should be
positioning themselves to capitalize on both opportunities?

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5 Comments on "Food Additives: Is less more even when more is the whole idea?"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

“Additive and preservative free” is similar to “All Natural.” “All Natural” is a very long term trend (certainly more than a decade so far).

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

It depends on which market you are talking about. In Europe this isn’t a trend, it’s the future. In the U.S. it’s the tip of an iceberg of indeterminate size. What is clear is that as sourcing gets more and more globalized U.S. manufacturers will have to begin to come to terms with new E.U. regulatory realities.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
14 years 7 months ago

It may be a long term trend, but I don’t see it lasting until then. It may be OK for the UK to eliminate additives and preservatives, but here in the states it will be an issue. The additives part may have the best chance to survive as parents and adults seem to think of it as a healthier alternative, and who knows what the manufacturers were adding in the first place.

Preservatives is another issue. Europeans average many more trips to their grocers per year than Americans. It’s a lifestyle and availability issue (smaller storage space for shelf stable and refrigerated items, more “corner” stores, etc.) There they rarely have big “stock-up” trips as we do here in the U.S. and therefore Americans don’t have that negative feeling towards preservatives as we want products to last longer, so we can use them when we want.

Bonny Baldwin
Guest
Bonny Baldwin
14 years 7 months ago

I wonder if we can look at how different markets have responded to GMO foods to anticipate what could happen with additives and preservatives? In both cases, a health risk may be present for some people, though because the vast majority will not directly experience it, there is no widespread panic. (I understand, too, that GMO foods have other far-reaching effects on agriculture, and that adds another dimension.) My sense is that the British population has more and deeper content available to it in mainstream news sources. It may, in general, be better informed and not overly prone to taking positions that are based on blind faith in (or cynicism of) regulatory agencies and advertising. I’m not insulting the intelligence of Americans, only noticing that my friends and I have to be driven by curiosity and to dig on the Internet to get some of the same information my British inlaws get on the BBC news and in their daily papers just as a matter of course. I think that’s unfortunate.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
14 years 7 months ago
I do think it’s a conundrum. On the one hand, we want our food to be absolutely free of artificial additives, and preservatives, I think, have gotten an especially bad rap. On the other hand, I don’t think the consumer fully understands the tradeoff–that food without preservatives will go bad before s/he has time to use it. As a consumer, my solution is to buy almost everything frozen on the theory that frozen is actually fresher than what stores–especially the produce departments–are passing off as fresh. As a marketer, I’ll be very interested to see how the industry handles the conflict between consumer demand for preservative-free foods and long shelf (or freezer?) life. Will the industry grow towards more frozen offerings in every category? Will we begin to accept irradiation or GM tinkering, or more improvements in aseptic packaging? And what can we do to make products last longer once the consumer has opened the package and wants to save the unused part for another meal that may be days or even weeks away? Going… Read more »
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