Consumer interest in product transparency, as well as a growing dislike of artificial preservatives, e-numbers, and long product labels, predates Covid. The recent pandemic nonetheless further heightened people’s awareness of preventative health and their understanding of food as something functional; that what we eat directly influences our wellbeing.
“As a result, people have never been more aware of what we are putting into our bodies, and by extension what brands are putting into their foods,” says Downs. “This has led to a hike in demand for natural ingredients and cleaner labels.”
Some 49% of users see products made with wholefoods as more appealing than those with processed ingredients, rising to 79% of those drawn to a short ingredient list. “This demand for simple ingredients links with consumers’ wider desire for authenticity,” adds Downs.
Consumers have much less tolerance than they used to for brands putting artificial ingredients into their products. This, however, has created something of a paradox. For while consumers are clear that they want natural, clean label products, they are not willing to sacrifice on convenience. In other words, they expect products to not only be healthy and nutritional, but also to continue to fit with their on-the-go lifestyles.
Consumers come full circle
This apparent contradictory set of demands is something that product manufacturers have to get their heads around. “In a sense we have come full circle,” notes Downs. “It used to be that we prepared and ate home-cooked meals from scratch, with natural ingredients. This pattern influenced our dietary habits. But as our lives got more hectic and the world got smaller, these dietary habits changed. There was also a need to deal with products and ingredients that were being made and imported from all over the world.”
This created demand for longer shelf life, and thus demand for preservatives. Synthetic preservatives offered manufacturers a cheap and relatively easy to source option. As noted earlier by Downs though, consumers have been shifting away from placing cost as the highest priority, and moving towards health, nutrition, and wellbeing.
“It is almost as if people are now willing to pay more, to get back to the more natural offerings that we used to eat. At the same time, the reality is that our lives are as busy and chaotic as ever.”
Leveraging natural ingredient functionality
One way of squaring this circle of meeting consumer demand for clean label products that fit their lifestyles is to leverage the functionality of natural ingredients. Natural ingredients are of course already used as preservatives - vitamin E and citric acid, for example – but these often lack the broad functionality of synthetics. There could therefore be a market opportunity for natural alternatives with added functionalities. This will be a key focus of Downs’ presentation.
“We listened to manufacturers to understand what consumers are looking for, and then worked backwards,” says Downs. “We tapped into a lot of R&D expertise, and really went back to basics.” This enabled Prinova to develop a range of natural preservatives, Plantguard, which will be presented at Fi Europe.
“The Plantguard range is effective across a multitude of applications, sweet or savoury, food or beverage,” says Downs. “Plantguard WS and FS, which work against oxidation spoilage in foods, depend on the fat content of the application. Plantguard WS [is] tailored to low fat products and Plantguard FS [is] for higher fat applications.”
A new addition to the Plantguard range, Plantguard AM (which stands for Plantguard Anti-Microbial) will also be presented. Unlike the other two products, which work to prevent spoilage from fat oxidation, Plantguard AM works hinders the growth of certain bacteria, yeasts, and moulds. There is a high demand for such functionality in the preservative space.
In her presentation, Downs aims to share the message that consumer demand for natural ingredients and functionality can be met. “These trends have been around for some time, but addressing them together is only possible thanks to innovation,” she says.