FDA Finally Admits… They Might Be Wrong.

Which one do you think is healthy between a handful of almonds and a Pop-Tart? Or between an avocado and a can of SpaghettiOs? Probably not the one you have in mind based on the current FDA definition. As explained in this recent article of the WSJ (or see the video below), food can only be marketed as healthy if it meets five criteria: fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol and beneficial nutrients, such as vitamin C or Calcium.

But it might change. Under the pressure of some food companies the FDA admitted that it is time to revisit the definition of this term. At Buzzback we already explored the meaning of healthy at several occasions.

In 2013, BuzzBack conducted a study on consumers’ perception of ‘Healthy’ and found that it was associated with words one would expect to see – active, exercise, balance, and happiness; with unique callouts to predictable descriptors such as ‘organic,’ ‘wholesome,’ and ‘natural’ within various markets. And when we asked about healthy snacks, respondents mentioned across the globe fruit, yogurt, nuts, and dried fruit. In the US, they particularly focused on low sugar to define what makes a healthy snack, however the FDA doesn’t even list sugar as a criteria. The public definitely does not share the same definition as the FDA but the US regulator is ready to hear what they have to say as well as food experts.

Across many studies we conducted for our CPG clients, we observe that consumers want more clarity in the labels of products they buy at their grocery store. Beyond helping the FDA to redefine overused mentions as ‘healthy’ or ‘natural,’ food manufacturers have to work more broadly on making their labels more transparent to answer the consumers’ request for a clean label. Stay tuned as we are working on a new study about clean labels as we continue to explore the meaning of healthy.

For more information on our Healthy, Natural or Sustainability studies, click here.


All Aboard the Healthy Train

Ah, the pursuit of healthier eating… What interesting bedfellows this trend continues to make! The latest marriage is between Hormel Foods, the makers of SPAM (hold the Monty Python jokes), and Applegate Farms, the natural and organic prepared meat company. The dowry? $775 million.

Many see this as shrewd move by Hormel, capitalizing on the consumer’s quest for the ‘better for you’ alternatives offered by smaller, independent brands. Like the General Mills + Annie’s union before it, this latest mash up is a signal that the natural, healthy and organic food trend is not a fad. Larger food companies understand the imperative to adapt through evolution and acquisition or be left behind.

Our most recent study of Healthy confirmed the growing importance of better nutrition to consumers. Respondents see that eating right is a key component to the prescription for health. For consumers in the US & UK, healthy is connected with nature – things that are natural, clean, organic, and specific products associated with fresh and organic. Interestingly, in a previous study on the concept of Natural, consumers most often associated the word Organic with it. Layer in what respondents told us in a third study on Sustainability, and brands that stand for organic generate positive associations.

And that’s what Applegate Farms has going for it. Healthy. Natural. Sustainable. The brand with its simple tagline of ‘Natural & Organic Meats’ probably represents the best of these words to its fans. So it’s no surprise that many took to social media and other outlets to express their disappointment over the acquisition. As always for both companies in these pairings, the challenge will be authenticity. Will the big food company be able to convince consumers that they’re committed to the noble goals of their acquisition, and will the takeover target be able to stay believably true to their brand essence? Only time will tell.

But a word – or three – of encouragement to Applegate’s fan base and to Hormel: Ben & Jerry’s. Despite being acquired by global giant Unilever, the beloved ice cream maker has survived and thrived with unwavering commitment to its socially – and environmentally – responsible brand reputation. Sometimes unlikely marriages are the biggest success stories.

For more information on our Healthy, Natural or Sustainability studies, click here.

Do Consumers Want Green Coca-Cola?

Earlier this month, Coca Cola unveiled its latest innovation. No, not a new beverage formulation. But a novel vessel for its products – a fully recyclable plastic bottle made entirely from renewable plant materials. Chalk one up for Planet Earth, as the “PlantBottle™” is a move away from petroleum based materials. Using a patented method that turns natural plant sugars into plastic bottle ingredients, Coca-Cola launched an earlier version in 2009 that was 30% plant-based – this 2015 edition is 100% bioplastic. According to a profile in Plastics Today, Coca Cola believes PlantBottle™ packaging is “estimated to have helped save the equivalent annual emissions of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.”

Coca Cola’s move is just the latest by an iconic brand looking to embrace more sustainable packaging. Other recent “green” newsmakers have included Method, Hershey and Clorox. But are these just good, practical business tactics or are companies making changes in response to a growing consumer trend? Is sustainability becoming a concern among everyday consumers? Is it increasingly something that companies should consider when exploring brand extensions, new product development, and packaging design?

According to our study on the subject, the answer is yes. While U.S. & U.K. consumers conveyed a basic understanding of sustainability, there were strong associations around the idea of preserving the environment for future generations. Our insights suggest that products with a sustainability label have a higher likelihood of success, as 80% of consumers said they would be more likely to purchase clearly-marked environmentally-responsible products.

In our study, we asked consumers to both verbalize and visualize their personal associations with sustainability. Brands looking to capture the hearts and minds of eco-aware consumers may want to take note. Positive words that came to mind include renewable, green and recycle. Negative ones included pollution, waste and greed. Visualization of sustainability resulted in imagery around preserving the environment and health (interestingly, in another study we recently led to learn what Healthy means to consumers, participants mentioned that taking care of the environment was a dimension of Healthy). While consumers may not have a full grasp of specific corporate sustainability initiatives, they did have definite ideas about what values they associate with sustainable brands: integrity, trust and authenticity.

As companies seek to help consumers navigate an ever overcrowded sea of choices toward their product line, sustainability can be an important competitive differentiator on shelf – as long as it can be communicated in a meaningful manner. Consumers expressed willingness to buy products from companies that align with their personal values. This creates an opportunity for brands to become a functionally and emotionally relevant solution at purchase

For more information on BuzzBack’s Sustainability study (or the one on Healthy), click here.



Marketing to the Millennial Food Shopper

There’s been a lot of talk about Millennials lately, and with good reason. Millennials currently make up the country’s largest living generation, and by extension, the country’s largest consumer group with $200 billion in annual buying power. This has not gone unnoticed, especially among big name brands. These days it seems that everyone is changing their marketing strategy to appeal to the Millennial consumer – a few months ago, we talked about TGIFridays removing the appetizer choice limits on their Endless Appetizer deal. Now, within the last month, we’ve heard about changes even more companies are making specifically focused on winning over Millennials.

First, marketers noticed the trend that Millennials have been moving away from beer, and choosing wine and spirits as their drink of choice. Frantically, beer companies have tried other tactics in order to win back the Millennial consumer with Anheuser-Busch releasing a spoof on classic cocktails including Bud Light Mixxtails and Bud Light Ritas. So far the canned cocktails have been a hit among Millennials, but only time will tell whether or not Millennials continue this trend or move on to drinking actual cocktails.

Then came the news that Target would be shifting its shelf marketing towards products that Millennials are more likely to buy. Consumers in general are starting to become more health-conscious and focused on buying natural or organic products. So in hopes of appealing to the “urban Millennial” Target is shifting the focus on their processed shelf staples to other items like Greek yogurt and granola. While this doesn’t mean that canned soup and boxed cereal will be completely removed from shelves, Target will be placing the spotlight on these products that today’s Millennial is more likely to buy.

However, the most surprising news was that Whole Foods (or as it’s more commonly called, Whole Paycheck) plans on launching a chain of lower-cost stores geared towards Millennials. While Whole Foods rose in popularity due to its early entrance into the organic grocery store scene, today healthy products can be found at almost any grocery store and at a much cheaper price. So while the demand for natural and organic products has increased, Millennials are still cash-strapped and price-conscious shoppers. The high cost of food at Whole Foods stores has generally been a turn-off for Millennials, but Whole Foods is hoping to gain their market share while at the same time being careful to not break the brand they have built up of “premium prices and premium products.” The stores, which will feature “a modern streamlined design, innovative technology and a curated selection,” are expected to start opening next year. And if prices are actually as reasonable as they are expected to be, you can be sure that this Millennial will definitely be shopping there.

The issue of Millennials being a younger generation and generally being less wealthy than the Boomer Generation is one that should be of particular interest to marketers. Affordability might just be the key to winning over the Millennial food shopper. Not every company can afford to just up and make a whole new chain of stores dedicated to winning over Millennials, however that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to lower the cost of food shopping. In our recent study on Millennials + Food & Nutrition, we briefly discussed how Millennials use a variety of sources for discounts and how over 90% of Millennial shopper use coupons (see clip below). This is something that not only applies to grocery stores, but also restaurants and product companies who also have the ability to control coupon deals. So, while Millennials do keep an eye out on the quality and freshness of goods they are buying, they are also aware of the limits placed on their food budget, and it’s up to marketers to find that balanced sweet spot.

For more information on our Millennials & Nutrition study, get in touch with us below.

Nuts: Health Snack or Too Much Fat?

Are they or aren’t they?

The definition of healthy is quite possibly society’s most influential phenomenon. What IS healthy, exactly? As of late, it seems ‘Healthy’ has evolved from having a clear, cut definition to becoming the most effective chameleon in the food industry.

In 2013, BuzzBack conducted a study on consumers’ perception of ‘Healthy’ and found that it was associated with words one would expect to see – active, exercise, balance, and happiness; with unique callouts to predictable descriptors such as ‘organic,’ ‘wholesome,’ and ‘natural’ within various markets. Still, it’s no surprise that the concept of ‘Healthy’ is most often associated with food – top healthy snacks across the globe included fruit, yogurt, nuts, and dried fruit.

But healthy snacks seem to be a catch-22 in itself. Eat more fruit – too much sugar. Cut out carbs – you’re left with no energy source. Low fat or Gluten-free? You end up consuming more sugar used to make up for lack of taste. Eat more nuts…but watch out for high fat content!

This seems kind of nutty…

Last month, KIND bar fanatics were hit with some conflicting news – their snacks aren’t healthy. At least, they’re not FDA-approved healthy. The Food and Drug Administration had contacted the manufacturer, notifying them that their popular fruit and nut snack is not, in fact, in line with their healthy regulations at all. According to the FDA, a “healthy snack food” cannot exceed 3g of Total Fat or 1g of saturated fat per serving. The bars in question – four flavors in particular – contain up to 5 g of saturated fat.

When looking at a nutrition label, seeing 5g of saturated fat right off the bat might generate a red flag for the average consumer.  It’s here where things get a little subjective. Sure, there’s a high amount of fat in this food product – but should we be paying more attention to the amount of fat, or where it’s coming from? The first ingredient(s) in any of KIND’s products are nuts.


Personally, I believe the only healthy cliché that has proven resolute over the years and within every food fad is ‘moderation is key.’

We forget that overdoing anything – whether it’s eating (‘healthy’ food is still food), sleeping, or even exercising – is unhealthy. Sure, snacking on dried fruit is better than grabbing a bag of chips – but not if you’re swallowing buckets of the stuff. And sure, chomping through a bowl of nuts is a healthier option than going through a bag of candy, but you do need to look out for high fat.

It’s all about balance, right? Healthy means balance – a balance throughout all aspects of life, including what you’re eating.

There’s a Bug in My Soup…On Purpose

When the U.N. declared back in 2013 that we humans should eat more bugs, it was an idea that many couldn’t stomach. This suggestion was made as part of the UN’s larger and quite serious focus on global environmental issues and potential food shortages. And no matter how queasy the notion might make someone, edible insects are rich in protein and sourcing them has low environmental impact. In many parts of the world, bug eating is not some foodie trend, but a way of life. Deep friend insects can be bought from Thai street vendors as easily as a hot dog from a food cart in Manhattan.

National Public Radio recently profiled a Thai entrepreneur looking to bring this favorite street food to the grocery and minimart snack aisle. To woo the uninitiated bug eater, he is relying on familiar chip and crisps flavors like barbecue and cheese, while on-pack messaging promotes the health benefits of the treat inside. Are bug products on their way to becoming the subject of MR explorations of the future? Will BuzzBack soon be leading eCollage studies to determine the best positioning for mealworm larva puffs or cricket breakfast flakes (Try them with milk!). And how would we tackle the concept generation sessions on potential flavors?

It makes one wonder – is the ick factor culturally ingrained? Earlier this year we released a report that explored global attitudes around the idea of Healthy – which included snacking. No one in Russia, Brazil or the U.S. named a single insect to their list of sought after healthy snacks.

That would suggest that Americans probably aren’t quite ready to view bugs tossed in their salad as a welcome addition – this still ranks up there as a legitimate reason to complain to the waiter.  However, American consumers have been enjoying a bug-based additive already – and most are probably not even aware that they are. Chochineal, carmine or carminic acid is a colorant made from crushed South American insects that give many processed foods their red color.

But bugs by choice? It’s going to take some marketing brilliance and powerful positioning to make that idea palatable. And maybe it will be the Millennials who will lead the way on insect cuisine. Our most recent study of their attitudes and behavior when it comes to food & nutrition found them to be more adventurous and willing to try new things. But to be fair, we didn’t specifically ask them if those new things had antennae or ectoskeletons.

To learn more about our Healthy Report or get more information about Millennials & Nutrition, click here.

Emotional Associations For The Emerging Conscious Consumer

Have you heard of Made To Matter? It’s an exclusive line of products that Target started placing in their end caps and throughout their regular aisles this spring. There are 17 brands participating in the program. Half of them will be introducing line extensions and the other half are new products. The brands participating in the program include: Annie’s Homegrown, Burt’s Bees, Chobani, Clif Bar & Company, Ella’s Kitchen, EVOL, Horizon Organic, Hyland’s, Kashi, Method, Plum Organics, Seventh Generation, SheaMoisture, Target’s Simply Balanced, Vita Coco, Yes To and Zarbee’s Naturals.

Target’s website states, “Now more than ever, Target guests are on the lookout for natural, organic and sustainable products that are better for them and their families.” At BuzzBack, we couldn’t agree more. For the past few years we’ve chosen different marketing terms to better understand consumers’ associations across the globe. Our three most recent terms have been Natural, Healthy and Sustainability.

Our findings show that brand messaging shouldn’t rely soley on fuctional product benefits and that companies who play in the global market need to understand the different nuances across cultures. In our Healthy study we suggest that linking functional benefits to the emotional associations of a healthy lifestyle can more deeply connect with consumers.

For example, an area that we found interesting was how respondents associate Healthy across age/life stages, from babies, children, teens, young adults to mature adults. Moving from the youngest to the oldest age groups, US, UK, and German responders revealed a gradual shift from nurturing/emotional associations to nutrition, wellness, and being physically healthy. When looking at associations for the same stages among Brazilians however, the focus is on nutrition and emotional connections for the younger groups, and then later shifting to a combination of nutrition, education (or work) and fitness in later life stages.

In Germany and Russia, the focus is on emotional connections for the younger age groups and shifts to associations with nutrition, fitness, and balance for the older age groups (young/mature adults). For China we see strong associations with physical health throughout all age stages, with emphasis on physical strength and fitness being more evident for the later stages in life.

To request a copy of the findings from Natural, Healthy and/or Sustainability, click here.


The Breakfast Club

Apparently breakfast is the most important meal of the day for fast food purveyors. As of late, it’s a battle out there for morning tastebuds and dollars. Breakfast represents a lucrative growth opportunity in the fast food market – and also a way to capture the most coveted demographic – Millennials. This is perhaps best exemplified by Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco – designed for one-handed eating while the other hand manages the cell phone. Seriously.

McDonald’s isn’t taking the assault on the Egg McMuffin lying down. For the next few weeks, coffee is free every morning – a lure to get consumers in during the morning rush and chance to offer breakfast with that. And there’s word that the fast food Goliath is considering extending its breakfast hours – an unthinkable alteration to the sacred and magical 10:30 a.m. changeover time. This is in response to the strong brunching trend – especially among Millennials.

I also believe another trend is coming into play that we’ve seen in recent research we’ve done for clients, as well as in our study on the concept of Healthy. Increasingly wellness-aware, consumers are seeking out more sensible quick dining options in the morning and beyond. In response, egg whites, oatmeal and yogurt parfaits can be found at McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. Even Subway. And thanks to coffee being a day long beverage, Dunkin Donuts has been ahead of the curve with an all-day menu of healthier breakfast-themed alternatives.

Ok, so maybe that Waffle Taco is the outlier when it comes to the healthy trend. But, boy! Does that darn thing look good!

QuakerUp – Fuel Good, Feel Good

Energy is all the rage these days in Food & Beverage (see our past posts on the subject).  And Quaker Foods is on trend from a macro Energy theme with their funny “Human Energy Crisis” campaign.  But what’s notable is that the campaign is actually evolving the notion of smart energy and connecting it to Health beyond nutrition.

With this strategy, Quaker has tapped into an emerging consumer consciousness about Energy+Health.  Lately, there’s been increasing backlash against energy drinks and caffeine-infused foods in the media and the FDA has begun investigating the products as well.

In the meantime, consumers have begun to seek out healthier energy solutions beyond the quick jolts these products provide. Quaker’s new campaign does answer the call for sustainable energy, but what’s novel, is the additional step it takes. Quaker’s gets at the emotional “Why do it” with the campaign tagline:  finding energy “for the moments that matter”.

We know that Quaker is on to something based on one of our most recent consumer studies on Healthy Snacking.  In it, U.S. consumers revealed that Healthy is a holistic prescription that encompasses healthy food, healthy habits and healthy relationships.  Being healthy involves eating the right foods, and spending time doing things that make you feel well –exercising and connecting with loved ones.  By eating healthy you make time for things and people that matter most.  Good energy for doing good things. Quaker just nailed it.

Color Wars: International Reactions to Artificial Dyes

Recently the issue of artificial versus natural dyes came to my attention as a mother and it got me wondering why more companies aren’t jumping on this “natural” claims opportunity.

It all began when I noticed an interesting update in my Facebook newsfeed.  It was from a health conscious mom who blogs about whipping up unprocessed meals for her family (100 days of Real Food). This particular post took issue with artificial dyes found in many U.S. foods and the possible link between those dyes and behavioral problems in children. Apparently this has been an ongoing debate for some time without any hard evidence to actually sway the FDA to take action. However, that’s not the case everywhere. I was surprised to learn that in 2010 the European Union approved policy that states manufacturers must display this warning label on the product if artificial dyes are used:

“May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Rather than using this alarming message on their packages, many companies have opted to switch to natural coloring instead.

Since then, I’ve noticed this topic popping up beyond my newsfeed, on The Today Show and The Huffington Post. As consumers increasingly reach for products that are more natural and healthy, some U.S. companies are even being proactive.  Kraft just announced they would stop using artificial dyes in 3 kid-friendly macaroni and cheese products for 2014.

This got me wondering about which foods in my house contain artificial dyes and if I needed to start monitoring these with my 3 year old. Then I remembered the Goldfish®, her beloved go-to snack.

Goldfish Colorsrounded

I used to only buy the Original Goldfish® crackers. But during our annual summer beach trip with a few other families, my daughter discovered what she calls “the rainbow Goldfish®.” A conversation started up among the adults about the ingredient list: beet juice, paprika, turmeric, huito and watermelon. Nope, the adults couldn’t taste the beets or the watermelon! Ha! I think they were confused. These weren’t flavors but rather natural colorants. But what is so surprising to me is that this claim isn’t front and center on their packaging but tucked away on the side! Look at the picture that I took. The message on the front simply reads, “Colors. Baked with real cheese.”

How many more parents would choose this product if they knew it didn’t contain suspect artificial dyes? All of this reminded me that it’s quite difficult to get a new or alternative product on someone’s radar. Marketing consultant, Jack Trout wrote in his book, Differentiate or Die: Survival In Our Era of Killer Competition, that American families repeatedly buy the same 150 items, constituting as much as 85% of their household needs. Homing in on unique and meaningful product claims can raise awareness to other products for consideration. Our most recent webinar on claims research underscores how important it is to know your objectives in order to crack the claim code. Are you trying to find something unique about your product? Claims are important because they can help companies differentiate and can impact brand and product perceptions. Which is exactly what happened with me! I never once thought of buying the rainbow Goldfish before, but now that I know they are made with natural colors they’ll definitely be on my Mom-approved Snack List from now on!