According to a recent article in USA Today, "simple" will mean to consumers in 2010 what "cheap" means in 2009. In fact, the move to simplify is already underway, because "Simple is better," as stated in the first line of the article: "Marketers such as Starbucks discover that simple sells."

The gist: consumers like food products that contain as few ingredients as long as those few ingredients look and feel healthier...and as long as they can pronounce them. Interesting premise. Noteworthy trend.
"Consumers these days want to know what's in the stuff they eat and drink–they want to know what's not." Labels that include additives like MSG and unpronounceable ingredients like chemical preservatives are causing more concern among consumers. Widespread allergic reactions in an overwhelming proliferation of processed foods are spurring much of this. A growing desire to choose healthier foods is another.
Some savvy marketers are using this feedback to cut down on the number of ingredients in many of their products. They're also revisiting what those ingredients are and making changes to respond to consumer demands.
Ironically, the concept of "five simple ingredients" became the hot marketing tool behind the launch of a new Haagen-Dazs ice cream line. While we know that "milk, cream, sugar, eggs and one natural flavor" are hardly the hallmark of a "healthy" product, consumers still responded favorably.
After all, these are five pure ingredients, aren't they? No chemical gobbledygook here. Then, the company posted its five ingredients right on the packaging of its new seven product roll-out. Result? The new simple product line now accounts for 10% of HD's overall business. Not bad.
The concept was so successful, a whole queue of food companies have gotten into the "simple" act.

  • Starbucks has reconfigured its food offerings by simplifying each product's ingredients. Its Vivanno fruit smoothies now tout four ingredients: milk, juice, banana and natural protein fiber powder.

  • Kraft's Triscuit brand has embraced the new trend. Its ingredients: wheat, salt and oil. Soybean oil has also replaced the less healthy palm oil.

  • Kraft's Back to Nature line will debut a Triple Ginger cookie in January containing whole grain wheat, cane juice, crystallized ginger, ground ginger and ginger extract. Pretty healthy ingredients for a cookie product.

  • Campbell's Select Harvest soups offer limited ingredients and explain what each one is. The line doesn't use any artificial colorings either.

  • Beech-Nut Let's Grow toddler foods put a "No Junk" promise on its packaging. "No" meaning no added sugars, modified starches or fillers.

I expect this trend to grow as more and more mainstream food companies take a page from their natural product industry counterparts. By simplifying ingredients, and choosing healthier ingredient alternatives, companies are responding to growing consumer concerns. Furthermore, by explaining the ingredients they are using, there seems to be a push for more transparency. And that has to be a good thing. Right?

  • Are you a label reader when you purchase foods and beverages? Have you deliberately chosen one product over another due to fewer, "cleaner" ingredients?

  • Do you prefer fewer, simpler ingredients in the products you purchase, if you have a choice?

  • Have you ever written or called a company to request they simplify or eliminate ingredients from a favorite product? Or have you purchased specific products in natural food stores rather than trying to find a cleaner choice in a supermarket?

I'd love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni