Naturally Sourced vs. Synthetic Ingredient Labeling

Kalsec® recently conducted U.S.-based research regarding consumer opinions on perceived differences between naturally sourced and chemically derived ingredients to better understand consumer trends.1

Naturally sourced ingredients are increasing in popularity when compared to more chemically derived ingredients. Given the increase in expectation of transparency in food processes, one can predict these trends will continue while the number of individuals without a preference will decrease.

TBHQ vs. Natural Flavor

Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, is a chemical preservative used in food products to extend shelf life. Kalsec® recently conducted a survey asking the consumer their ingredient label preference between ‘natural flavor’ or ‘TBHQ.’

Half of the consumers indicated a preference for a particular ingredient. Of those stating a preference, nine out of 10 chose ‘natural flavor’ over ‘TBHQ.’ Since such a large percentage of consumers have a preference, it is important to note that a strong opinion base may significantly sway purchasing trends.

9 out of 10 US consumers prefer natural flavor of TBHQ

Rosemary Extract vs. Natural Flavor

63 percent of millennial consumers chose rosemary extract over natural flavorAnother survey was conducted to further research the consumer’s perspective on the importance of the transparency of ingredients. In this survey, consumers were asked their labeling preference for the same ingredient, ‘rosemary extract’ or ‘natural flavor.’ While the majority of consumers preferred naturally sourced options versus having no preference, the millennial generation significantly exceeded the average.2

Of millennial consumers who have a preference, almost two-thirds selected ‘rosemary extract’ over ‘natural flavor’ as the desired ingredient label. Millennials were the only generation for whom ‘rosemary extract’ dominated over the ‘no-preference’ option. This supports the theory that millennials seek more specificity and transparency in their food labels.

While all other generations selected ‘no preference’ most frequently, the selection of ‘rosemary extract’ was higher than that of ‘natural flavor’ for those stating a preference. This shows that when comparing similarly functioning ingredients, most consumers prefer to know the specific description of the ingredient.

Millennial vs. Baby Boomer

Food production in the U.S. is a $900 billion industry.3 With the millennial assimilation into the workforce, purchase decisions on both the consumer and commercial level are changing. Although the number of millennials have surpassed that of baby boomers, the peak of millennial buying power is projected for 20364, which is still decades away.

Per the end of year 2015 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the millennial-aged consumers are about 20.5 percent of the buying power within the food industry. The baby boomer generation still accounts for over 36 percent of aggregated food expenditures.

Chart of 2015 Aggregated Annual US Food expenditures

For food manufacturers, understanding labeling preferences based upon target audience is key. Overall, naturally sourced ingredients are preferred for both baby boomers and millennials, while millennials are progressing towards more specific ingredient descriptions.

Clean Label Trends

1. Kalsec® conducted online surveys in May 2017 of 1,026 US consumers and in June 2017 of 1,008 US consumers ages 18 and over.
2. For Kalsec®’s consumer research results, we assumed “Millennials” refers to US consumers, ages 18-34 at the time of the survey. “Gen X” refers to consumers ages 35-54, and “Baby Boomers” refers to the 55 and older ages.
3. Consumer Expenditures Survey (CEX). (n.d.).
4. Fry, Richard. N.p., 25 Apr. 2016. Web.
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