Another Look at the Simplicity Trend

Simplicity sells.

In fact, simple may be the most powerful marketing claim in 2010, according to an article last week (Oct. 27) by Bruce Horovitz in USA Today.

“If 2009’s hottest sales pitch was all about buying stuff on the cheap, 2010 marketing will increasingly stress less as more, as in fewer parts, additives or ingredients. While the trend is taking hold in many product categories, including health and beauty items, nowhere is it more apparent than with things we eat and drink.”

simply-pb-packageGlad to see that I was a jump ahead of USA Today.  I’ve been writing about the simplicity trend for months, and was even interviewed by ABC News on the topic in June.

Here’s a look back:

Simplicity is the New Sophistication, April 23
Putting the “No” in Innovation, May 11
Update on Global Consumer Trends in 2009, Sept. 2
Short Ingredient List Has Become Something to Brag About, Oct. 25

As Bruce writes in USA Today:

“Consumers these days not only want to know what’s in the stuff they eat and drink — they want to know what’s not….Folks are increasingly demanding cleaner food labels:  no artificial food colorings (some of which have been linked to hyperactivity in children), no chemical additives (such as MSG) and no chemical preservatives (such as BHA).  If they can’t pronounce it, consumers don’t want it.”

Perhaps it was Michael Pollan who popularized the concept of few ingredients.  In his best-selling book In Defense of Food, he recommends buying only foods with five or fewer ingredients.

In last week’s USA Today:

Few are talking louder about simplifying ingredients than Haagen-Dazs. But its red-hot Five ice cream line did not come from a breakthrough in its new product lab.  Five was born in the marketing department of parent company Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream.

Early in 2008, Ching-Yee Hu, a self-proclaimed foodie and brand manager at the company, observed a consumer focus group meeting that convinced her it was time for Haagen-Dazs to create a line with an absolute minimum of ingredients.five

At the gathering in San Francisco, a panelist mentioned that when he shopped recently, he found himself comparing a bag of potato chips that had 20 ingredients with a bag that had three.  He said the bag with the short list was the obvious choice.

“As he told this story, I could see all the other consumers in the room nodding their heads in agreement.  And I wondered:  Why can’t we bring ice cream down to the bare minimum,” Hu recalls.

Now a lot of other companies are jumping on the simple bandwagon, including Pillsbury, Starbucks and even pet food manufacturers.   Natura Pet Products makes California Natural dog and cat foods with a tagline of “pure and simple.”  The company said since simplifying the packaging last year — and stressing the short ingredient list — Calornia Natural has become its fastest-growing line.

So what’s the bottom line?  It’s great that companies are taking a harder look at their ingredients — and getting out what they don’t absolutely need.  Shoppers are scrutinizing ingredients today like never before.  It’s the fresh, real and less processed trifecta, which has become the new definition of quality.

Increasingly a short ingredient list is becoming a less processed cue (at a time when “minimally processed” and “closer to nature” have become major rallying cries).  A trend toward less processing is good.  But remember, fewer ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean healthier.  A five-ingredient ice cream or cookie is still ice cream and cookies.   Potato chips with a short ingredient list are still potato chips.

Be sure you’re spending as much time filling your cart with foods that don’t have an ingredient list.

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