A Challenge For Food & Beverage Innovators

The day will come when consumers will reject natural colors and flavors just like they are beginning to reject todays “artificial” status quo. Are you ready?

To be clear, my intention is not to critique or to be judgmental. Instead, my intention is to point out opportunities and help you get a head start on evolving consumer demands.

My challenge for innovators within finished goods manufacturers: Simply put, don’t make foods that need to be faked.

OK, maybe that sounds a bit harsh, and it probably is. I don’t believe anyone sets out to make “fake” food, but I do want to challenge you a bit. Let me clarify the challenge.

  1. Don’t make foods that need added colors to make it look appealing.
  2. Don’t make foods that require ‘natural flavor’ to make them taste right.

For now, consider putting aside any ideas or products that require these “fakes” or “enhancers.” (I am channeling today’s increasingly skeptical consumer in selecting these words.) I get it; processing and preservation often require colors and flavors to meet consumer taste expectations, but my challenge to you is to skip these innovations altogether, or at least focus some portion of your innovation efforts on products that don’t use these.

Instead, look for:

  • Opportunities to keep it simple
  • Opportunities to create something closer to “real foods”
  • Ingredients with purpose which consumers can understand
  • Ingredients with benefits consumers want
  • Opportunities to practice product development without these items

I’m not saying there aren’t acceptable places for colors and flavors (natural or otherwise). Instead I’m suggesting you challenge yourself to make the best product you can without “fakes” or “enhancers.” Increasingly we are seeing manufacturers committing to cleaner labels by removing artificial colors or flavors, and this is a great thing. But for aggressive innovators looking for more than incremental innovation, and for those looking to build bold competitive differentiation, I’d argue it isn’t advancing us far enough down the path.

The day is coming when consumers will reject natural colors and flavors just like they are beginning to reject today’s “artificial” status quo. Increasingly consumers will heed the advice of the Pollans and Bittmans of the world who are calling for real food to be the central focus of our diet. It’s going to take some practice to figure out how to create “value added” and prepared or processed foods that are closer to real. What I’m really suggesting is that you get good at creating products without these crutches before consumers reject them outright.

My challenge to you is to begin experimenting and building recipes (not “formulations”) which deliver without the fakes and enhancers.

The challenge for color and flavor manufacturers: Begin efforts to demystify “color” and “flavor” before the lack of transparency in these items kills them.

What I’m arguing for are efforts to improve transparency:

  • Improve consumer understanding
  • Create more nuanced language
  • Engage in open dialogue with critics
  • Change labeling practices and regulations

I believe there is a role for color and flavor for which consumers are and may remain comfortable; however, consumers are increasingly skeptical of the limited optics and intentions. Trust is not inherent, and consumers are beginning to question anything they don’t understand or can’t evaluate for themselves. Before it is too late, or before the topic becomes an issue, I’d argue that the industry work to engage in dialogue, and work to improve transparency, and delineation between different types of flavors and colors.

While some will argue to defend the status quo, those who serve consumers will ultimately be the ones who prevail. Those who change the dialogue and those who produce strawberry flavor from strawberries will find a new market for themselves. Those who continue to hide less than natural sources or processes behind today’s opaque labeling of colors and flavors may find their products falling out of favor.

Thanks for listening. Now let’s get out there and get back to changing our food system for the better.

Originally posted July 28th, 2015 to:

About the author: Eric J. Pierce, Director of Business Insights, New Hope Network (link to

Strategy, Trend Spotting, and Industry Analysis for the Natural Products Industry.

My passions lie in the intersection of consumer behaviour and business strategy within the Natural Products industry. These passions are focused on helping companies navigate the dynamic and changing food system, helping to re-imagine brands, inspire product innovation, and focus business investments with an eye towards meeting the needs of the food-forward consumer.

At New Hope my colleagues and I sit at the forefront of the Natural Products industry, well positioned to identify the cultural forces and trends creating opportunity in this exciting and evolving marketplace. Together we help companies large and small identify, prioritize and take advantage of opportunities in the evolving food economy.

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