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While natural food and drink appears to have gone mainstream in Canada, it seems confusion around what ‘natural’ actually means has inspired a free-from revolution. Research from Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) reveals that there was a 366% increase in ‘GMO-free’ claims on natural food/drink launches in Canada from 2007-17*, while ‘no additives/preservatives’ claims grew 21%**. Meanwhile, relatively less specific claims such as ‘all natural product’ declined 62% in the same time period***.

42% of shoppers agree that foods and beverages with natural/organic claims are better for you.

Although natural/organic food and drink shoppers are most likely to agree that foods and beverages with natural/organic claims are better for you (42%), new Mintel research reveals that there’s confusion among some consumers surrounding what that actually means: shoppers are just as likely to agree that natural/organic foods and beverages offer clear benefits (22%) as they are to say that foods with natural/organic claims are a gimmick (19%). Consumers can more easily define organic claims than natural claims as shoppers are significantly more likely to consider organic products as being free of certain additives, including free of pesticides (53% vs 35% natural), preservative-free (46% vs 39%) and hormone-free (41% vs 30%).

“Natural claims are evolving to provide greater clarity about the benefits of these products as consumers increasingly demand total transparency from food and drink companies, as noted in Mintel’s 2018 Global Food and Drink Trend ‘Full Disclosure.’ Manufacturers, companies and brands are responding by providing more defined positioning, including substituting vague claims like ‘all natural’ in favour of more specific claims such as ‘GMO-free’ or ‘preservative-free.’ As such, focusing on free-from positioning appears to be a more direct means to communicate the inherent value of natural/organic products,” said Joel Gregoire, Associate Director, Canada Food and Drink Reports, at Mintel.

Canadians buying more natural/organic foods/drinks in 2018

Despite the fact that some consumers are unclear about the perceived health benefits of natural and organic products, it seems consumers are adding them to their grocery carts more and more. Three in 10 (29%) shoppers say they are buying more natural foods and beverages in 2018 compared to a year ago—more than four times the percentage of consumers who say they are buying less (7%). Meanwhile, 28% of shoppers say they’re buying more organic foods and beverages this year compared to 11% who say they’re buying less.

Natural and organic food and drink is becoming more common place in Canadian households as seven in 10 (71%) consumers say that at least some of their food and drink purchases are natural or organic, including more than one quarter (26%) who claim that roughly half or more are natural or organic.

Looking to give their kids the best start in life, parents are most likely to purchase natural/organic products, with one third (33%) saying that half or more of their groceries are natural/organic, with safety a key driver. Parents (40%) are more likely to find food and drink products with natural/organic claims to be safer, compared to 33% of non-parents.

“As natural and organic food and drink becomes a more mainstream grocery item, consumers are increasingly adding these items to their carts. Our research shows that parents represent a key segment for natural/organic foods and drinks, with these products likely to comprise a greater proportion of their grocery baskets. Natural/organic claims appear to serve as added reassurance of safety for moms and dads when it comes to what they are serving their kids, highlighting an opportunity for natural and organic brands to focus their messaging around these products as being a safer option,” continued Gregoire.

Canadians are more likely to attribute organic foods and drinks with being expensive (52%) than with being nutritious (33%).

Price remains an issue when buying natural/organic foods

Finally, price remains the biggest barrier to natural/organic food product purchase as seven in 10 (69%) shoppers say they would purchase more natural/organic foods if they were less expensive. Meanwhile, just 22% agree that natural/organic foods are worth paying more for. It seems for many consumers, the pricey reputation of these products overtakes their healthful reputation as Canadians are more likely to attribute organic foods and drinks with being expensive (52%) than with being nutritious (33%).

“Cost continues to be a major concern for consumers when it comes to purchasing natural and organic food and drink, so much so that it outweighs perceived healthfulness. This highlights the need for manufacturers and companies to address the reputation that these products are costly without diminishing their value to the consumer. Brands should focus on communicating how and by whom foods are sourced as a way to communicate transparency and strengthen trust. Technology can play a greater role in facilitating transparency as it can give consumers an unfiltered, behind-the-scenes view of the production process to provide added assurance around the safety of the products they’re eating and drinking,” concluded Gregoire.

*6% in 2007 vs 28% in 2017
**48% in 2007 vs 58% in 2017
***26% in 2007 vs 10% in 2017

Press copies of Mintel’s The Natural/Organic Shopper Canada 2018 report and interviews with Joel Gregoire, Associate Director, Canada Food and Drink Reports, are available on request from the press office.