Simplicity Is The New Sophistication

fiveKeep it simple stupid.  That’s the current rallying cry in the food industry.  Simplicity is a dominant trend  — perhaps it’s an antidote to the complexity and stress of these uncertain times.  Maybe it’s a backlash against the onslaught of pumped up, engineered foods.  There does seem to be a growing  skepticism of complicated formulations and unfamiliar ingredients —  and food companies are taking notice.

Today, people are looking for foods that have been stripped back to basics.  They want unpretentious, unadorned or “natural” foods, which are perceived as more real and authentic. That often comes down to few and familiar ingredients — a trend that Haagen Dazs nailed on the head with Five.  This new ice cream focuses on the small number of ingredients that go into every carton — and it’s all ingredients you’d likely have at home:   milk, cream, sugar and eggs. 

In a recent Marketing Daily article, simplicity was described as the new sophistication.   Margaret Kime, director of innovation for the brand-building consultancy Fletcher Knight, said “brands that celebrate the aesthetic beauty in real ingredients, simple preparation and artful presentation will be aligned with the driving philosophy that good food is eaten fresh and prepared unpretentiously.”  She cited several new products in the beverage category that are redefining simplicity, including all-natural Pepsi Raw and Honest Beverages (“Be Real. Get Honest.”).

But it’s not only about new food products.  One of my favorite cereals is Shredded Wheat.  And this no-nonsense breakfast food is coming on strong to tap into the recession-driven demand for comforting, simple and familiar foods.  And the company is really playing up the anti-innovation factor.  Now it’s hip to be behind the times. 

Post Foods just announced that it will be embarking on a new campaign to highlight that the cereal has remained unchanged since it was first introduced 117 years ago, and still contains only “one simple, honest ingredient – 100 percent natural whole grain wheat. “10037568advertisement-for-shredded-wheat-promoting-it-as-the-national-breakfast-posters

“There’s been a marked change in American values, with a greater desire for honesty, trustworthiness, and security during a time of economic and societal uncertainly,” said Kelley Peters, director of integrated insights and strategy for Post Foods. The company said that its focus on remaining the same for more than a century should come as a “refreshing change…in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world.”

This old-fashioned cereal couldn’t be more modern.  Not only does it have the simplicity thing going for it, but it’s also high in fiber — a shortfall nutrient that’s being added  to all sorts of foods and beverages today.   Digestive health is a hot claim, according to Packaged Facts, who predicts that it will rule in 2009.  

Shredded Wheat is also playing the natural card, and “natural” is now the top label claim on new products, according to the market researcher Mintel.  Additionally, as nutrition information moves front-of-pack, more companies will be turning their attention to simplicity and looking to remove artificial colors and flavors.

Sometimes, what’s old is really new again.

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  • Great post Janet! I was recently interviewed about this very same topic. I love the simplicity of Shredded Wheat, can’t say the same for Haagen Dazs. There is nothing new about their product – many of their flavors have always contained just five ingredients, but they’ve gotten wise to the marketing of the simplicity concept. Problem being is that innocent little pint contains a not so innocent 44g of saturated fat and over 1000cal. (And we know – at least I do – someone can easily put that away in one sitting, or at least half, a mere 2 scoops.) Not trying to be a killjoy, just stating the facts. Another company getting wise to simplicity is Frito Lay with their Lay’s potato chips and tortilla chips. Ever looked at the ingredient list on potato chips? Three things: potatoes, oil, salt. Compare that to baked chips and the list is many many times that. Hmmm, makes you wonder. And sat fat? One gram. Why are they so vilified? But too bad the simplest of foods like fruits and veggies don’t have such great marketing campaigners!

  • I gotta say the simplicity thing appeals to me. In my local stores, I can get Grandma Sycamore’s whole wheat bread, with just five ingredients. Your average off-the-shelf bread must have 15-20 ingredients, including many unfamiliar chemicals. Grandma’s bread isn’t necessarily better for you by any means . . .

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  • Lisa Monti, MS, RD

    Interesting commentaries – simplicity is great. However, I’m having the same reaction regarding the Haagen -Daz slant – this brand has ALWAYS been “all-natural,” so I agree with comment above, this is nothing “new or different” as far as I’m concerned. Like Breyers all natural line, Haagen-Daz has always contained no added vegetable gums or artificial flavors, as far as I’m aware. But my fave ice creams are Breyers Vanilla Bean and Turkey Hill Philadelphia Style, but the past year or so Breyers has added taro gum, still labeling the line as “all natural,” they snuck it in!. Turkey Hill’s Philadelphia style is still gum-free and pure. Not that gums are unhealthy, they are a dietary fiber, but I just don’t tolerate them well digestively.
    I rarely touch the premium ice creams like Haagen-Daz or Ben & Jerry’s (with many ingredients and gums!), and would never recommend as a health professional – they’re just not worth the calories, let alone the cost, compared to Breyers and Turkey Hill!

  • Lisa Monti, MS, RD

    A few examples of healthy engineered foods: Most health professionals would be advising to choose reduced-fat ice creams or frozen yogurts over a premium ice cream, (aside from the yogurts and sorbets or sherbets Haagen-Daz markets as well). Those low-fat products inevitably are filled with vegetable gums, and probably more than 5 ingredients in most cases, yet would be considered the better choice for most people. So sometimes “engineered foods” will be lower in fat and “healthier?”
    I recently served on a focus group panel of RDs on Smart Balance spreads, and was surprised to hear my colleagues were leery of these spreads b/c of the long list of ingredients, even though they were healthy ingredients (plant oils, esther of fatty acids, and added vitamins). I was surprised to learn that these RDs prefer to use real butter, and are recommending real butter to their patients rather than considering the benefits of a margarine spread, just because of the perceived “chemicals” in them.

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