Consumer insistence for healthier, more natural ingredients and transparency in the food system is prompting an increasing number of corporations to “overhaul” even iconic products. A large and vocal consumer presence on social media is helping the trend gain momentum. Major retailers (including Wal-Mart, Costco and Whole Foods) are also pushing food manufacturers to make changes to products they supply.
A “cleaner” label is one result, as artificial colors and flavors are replaced with natural ingredients. Some companies are removing genetically modified ingredients from their products. Concerns about animal welfare also factor in.
“I think it’s really just the beginning. It’s only going to get more intense,” said Ken Cook, the president and co-founder of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. “This is still the country where the customer is always right. I think companies rushing to clean up their labels to respond to consumer demand, like McDonald’s and others, that’s an indication of the direction.”
Consumers won’t necessarily pay more for some of the changes. Paul Bakus, who is with Nestle, said consumers shouldn’t have to pay more for natural ingredients when a product formulation changes.
“The consumer is pretty much in the driver’s seat,” said [Sophie Anne] Terrisse, who has worked with Johnson & Johnson and Weight Watchers. “A consumer can make or break a brand with a post, with a review, with a comment and an idea. Any brand has to listen today harder than they’ve ever listened.”