Clean labelling – it’s been used to describe the use of natural, ‘kitchen cupboard’ ingredients, organic, free range, free-from, halal and kosher. While there isn’t much agreement on what the term means, the overarching idea seems to be simplicity and transparency in labelling, meaning a more informed consumer.
But what if there are too many of these ‘simple ideas’ on pack? Could this, ironically, become too complicated for consumers to understand?
That was the concern behind a recent European Commission rule on the use of free range and organic logos on egg packaging in Ireland. A decision that only one farming method could be stated on pack came as a result of a drawn-out correspondence between the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
The verdict, which as yet has not been considered officially beyond Ireland, assumed that the simultaneous use of both logos could confuse consumers.
Responding to the decision, organic charity Soil Association said the Commission had taken the legislation “too literally”, and it was now awaiting clarification from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and considering appealing to the Commission for a rethink.
Discussing this risk of consumer confusion, Chris Brockman, EMEA regional food and drink manager for Mintel, said the co-existence of such claims on pack, was “quite a difficult line to tread”.
“Too many claims and the consumer is overwhelmed, but miss some out and you could be excluding a powerful motivator for purchase,” the analyst said.
According to Mintel 2013 data, two in five people (41%) said they would like details of where food had come from on labels, while a similar amount said they wanted sugar contents to be given more clarity on pack and three in ten said they found the current amount of information on packaging confusing.
Brockman said there were certainly some claims that went “well together”, adding natural, organic and gluten free claims were being increasingly seen together.
“But it does vary by category so producers need to understand what the key consumer motivations are for their product and make a judgement as to which claims they focus on as there is a limit as to what consumers can take in and, most importantly, understand.”
Free range vs. organic
Soil Association head of standards Christopher Atkinson told FoodNavigator organic went “above and beyond” the free range standard since it adhered to the qualities of free range as well as its own codes of practice. But this message would not necessarily make it to the consumer without both certification logos.
“Of course we’d hope that everybody in world would understand what is meant by organic. But that’s not the case,” he said.
“We know that a great many UK organic producers use the words ‘free range’ in their egg labelling or marketing and that if the UK authorities choose (or were obliged) to follow the Irish approach that it would not be helpful to our Soil Association producers,” another spokesperson for the charity said.
Animal welfare standards ranked much higher than organic as a factor in choice of food in general in the UK, according to Mintel, with 23% saying animal welfare standards was an influencing factor, while only 7% said this for organic.
Meanwhile just 29% of organic-buying respondents said they did so because it ensured a higher level of animal welfare.
“So free-range should be a much more powerful consumer message than organic,” Brockman said.
Free range and organic were both ‘protected’ egg marketing terms written in EU law, one of the few food terms obligatory in this sense.
Atkinson said for this reason he could not see this issue of mutually exclusive labelling spreading to other categories. He added that since egg marketing was a devolved issue in the UK we could see different regions like Scotland taking differing stances.