I've been struck by the recent spate of announcements from the food industry on removing ingredients.
Chipotle announced it had removed all GMO ingredients from its menu, making good on a two-year-old promise. Pepsi announced it was getting rid of aspartame from all its Diet Pepsi varieties. Tyson Foods announced it would stop using antibiotics in its chicken flocks by September 2017, following McDonald's pledge to stop purchasing chicken treated with antibiotics over the next two years. Kraft announced it was dropping artificial colors in its Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. And earlier this year, Nestle pledged to remove artificial colors and flavors from its chocolate candy.
While it's arguable whether all these decisions are supported by scientific evidence, they are certainly a response to customer concerns over food safety. And those concerns are not going away any time soon. After decades of confusing and contradictory advice, many seem to have come to a simple conclusion: fresh equals less processed equals healthy. And it's a sentiment that's getting stronger.
So it was striking how Chipotle's announcement was received compared to the rest. It was seen as part of Chipotle's drive for food integrity, central to its values and beliefs, and done for the benefit of customers. Following on from the temporary withdrawal of carnitas from its menu earlier this year, when a pork supplier failed to live up to its standards, it was another demonstration that Chipotle was a business to be trusted.
In contrast, the other announcements were seen as brands responding to falling sales, and to customer or competitor pressure. It was something that had been forced upon them. By leading in food integrity rather than just responding, only Chipotle strengthened its brand.
So where are mainstream supermarkets in this debate on less processed foods?
Certainly the selection of more natural, organic and local products has noticeably increased in many operators, together with advice on health and wellness, enabling customers to make more informed choices. But perhaps it’s time to push beyond that, and for supermarkets to be seen as leading the fight for less processed foods, on behalf of their customers.
What can supermarkets due to get ahead of these trends?