Mintel published our Transparency trend onto Mintel Inspire in September 2007. Then, we looked at the role of the “corporate sagas of the late 1990’s culminating in Enron” had helped pave the way for our collective interest in transparency, which we defined in part as the “need to be open and honest. To have and show integrity and a willingness to share.”

In April 2010, on Mintel Food and Drink, we looked at the role of transparency and how it was playing out in the numerous changes made to products in terms of packaging and formulation. Examples given included the lowering of sodium levels, the removal of HFCS in favor of alternative sweeteners (like sugar), and we talked about how brands were increasingly moving toward more natural formulations.

The question we asked then, in April 2010, was whether companies should advertise these changes (opt for transparency) or whether they should keep them quiet, reformulate in secrecy.

Mintel will be looking at this question of transparency in 2011, as it is one of our big trends for 2011 – Quiet Reduction.

Intriguingly, in Fall/Winter 2010, we’ve seen brands like SC Johnson voluntarily list all the ingredients.

In a New York Times interview, S.C. Johnson CEO Herbert Fisk Johnson noted that this increased transparency was a direct response to the increasing lack of transparency in the corporate world. He also described it as a means of empowering consumers with information.

“If we’re really going to make progress on the environment, we have to empower consumers to make more environmental choices. We need to inform them in practical ways and this ingredient disclosure is a very logical next step.”

Of course, in one of the most highly publicized news stories in 2010, the “Wikileaks Cables” seem to be yet another sign of the coming wave of transparency. Of course, this is an extreme example of “transparency,” but it cannot and should not be ignored or seen as being an outlier.

In yet another example, Douglas Rushkoff, author and cultural critic,” has released a new text called “Program of Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age.” In it, he argues that what the internet itself has done is to eliminate brand mythology. He says that instead of creating fiction, the internet will bring us back to cold hard facts. To him, the creator of a cookie brand is not the fictional elves depicted in a company’s advertising, it is real people in a real place. He also argues that people living in the digital age care more about these types of “facts.” They prize and share information related to the sourcing, or sustainability of a product in question. In this way, the internet facilitates sharing and the wider truth of the products we purchase.

All of these examples come from different times and regions, but the story is similar, brands must consider the fact that people have the means to find out more about their products than ever before and transparency, like the other big topics of health and wellness and sustainability are not going to fade.