What Do Consumers Mean By 'Transparency?'

Food companies have been working hard to adapt to the new consumer-driven industry dynamic, altering existing business practices and innovating new products to meet consumer preference for healthier foods.

One area that has been a major focus of many companies is transparency. In fact, transparency has become a buzz word in the industry and, as with many other buzz words, runs the risk of losing all meaning.

What do consumers really want when they say transparency?

Recent research from the Food Marketing Institute can help us answer that question.

In conjunction with Label Insight, FMI conducted research with more than 2,000 US grocery shoppers to determine, among other things, what consumers mean when they talk about transparency in food.

The answers may be a bit surprising: The most frequently named attribute of transparency among consumers was simply a complete list of ingredients (65%). Next? Plain English descriptions of ingredients (59%) and in-depth nutrition information (49%).

So, what consumers want most when they say transparency is a list of ingredients they can understand and nutrition information they can use.

Far fewer consumers are looking for ingredient sourcing information (33%), certifications and claims (29%), or value-based information, such as animal welfare statements (26%).

In fact, the least mentioned attribute of transparency among consumers was sustainability practices (20%), despite the focus from many companies on promoting these.

This is by no means to say that these other attributes of transparency are unimportant or unworthy—for a growing segment of consumers, they are critical factors in their purchasing decisions. Not to mention that they are responsible and positive corporate behaviors.

The point we want to make is that meeting consumer demand for transparency begins with helping those consumers understand what’s in your food and how it helps them meet their nutritional goals. 

To that point, the FMI/Label Insight research also found that 47% of American households have someone on a diet or following a health-related program that would classify them as a “health-conscious shopper.” Six in 10 of these shoppers are willing to pay more for products that offer the information they are looking for.

Corporate transparency initiatives are a net plus, but from a marketing perspective, healthy brands need to be sure that they don’t look past the fundamentals—ingredients and nutrition.