Food industry responds to demands to 'keep it simple, stupid'

It's been clear for some time now that the recession has taken its toll on consumers, leading them in many instances to winnow purchases down to the bare necessities. And the food industry, always on the outlook for a new gimmick to sell its wares, is paying attention.

It's one reason you may have seen the word "simple" or "simply" appearing on more packaging. Marketers such as Starbucks, Kraft and Campbell's are paring down ingredients and using simpler language on their product labels, as a way to appeal to a new generation of thrift-seeking consumers.
"Simple is better," may be the most powerful marketing mantra in 2010, reports USAToday.

Companies selling products with the fewest number of ingredients stand to win big, says trends expert Lynn Dornblaser of Mintel. The market-research firm has tracked decreases in the number of ingredients in 19 product categories, including dairy product and processed meats.

The concept of "simple" extends beyond merely reducing the ingredients list. It also applies to simpler language to describe ingredients such as maltodextrin, an ingredient listed on labels of Campbell's Soup. While "maltodextrin" still appears on labels of the soup-maker's Chunky lines, a description of what the ingredient is -- a carbohydrate from potato or corn starch -- appears on Campbell's Select Harvest line, a brand that appeals to women over 35, a key demographic.

Starbucks has skin in the game, too. Responding to consumer requests for healthier foods, USAToday says, the coffee-house chain revamped food offerings, including its banana bread. The treat now contains just 10 ingredients, down from 19. Starbucks did that by eliminating, for example, banana flavoring, instead increasing the number of bananas in the recipe.

The "simple" theme isn't limited to foods for adults or even humans. Baby-food maker Beech-Nut introduced its line of Let's Grow toddler foods last year, which uses the words "No Junk" on packaging and in advertising, to convey the simplicity message. Gone are ingredients such as added sugars, modified starches or fillers that may raise red flags in consumers' minds

Pet-food makers, too, are embracing the message. Natura Pet Products' California dog and cat foods boast the shortest ingredient-list of any pet food on the market, company president Don Scott told USAToday. New packaging that stresses that point along with the tagline "pure and simple" have helped make the line the company's fastest growing brand.

After being taken to the woodshed by regulators in years past for misusing words such as "light" (or "lite") and "low fat" on product labels, it's rather refreshing to see food marketers glom onto a trend that at least consumers can comprehend. Now, let's just hope they don't abuse it.
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