Why is “free-from” creating a seismic shift in product marketing?

I was in the shower the other day and looking at my bottle of Kiehl’s Amino Acid Shampoo. Right there, under the product name, was a bold line saying “Silicone-Free, Paraben-Free.” It got me to thinking, the new “free-from” trend– removing ingredients rather than adding them—is the biggest shift in product innovation since “new and improved” made its debut. “Free-from “ products have been growing exponentially across industries, from food and beverage to detergents, restaurants and beauty products for years now… and it’s not about to stop.
Remove the additives and preservatives and you’ve got a new product launch.
The data shows the move by manufacturers to produce foods with so-called clean labels, driven by consumer demands for products with natural rather than chemical or synthetic additives, are perceived to be safer and healthier.
According to data from Mintel, the second most popular claim on new European products since 2008 has been “organic,” accounting for almost 25% of product claims. And in the U.S. more than half the population is purchasing “free-from” products.
• free from GMOs
• free from antibiotics
• free from additives
• free from pesticides
• free from artificial ingredients
• free from nuts
• free from dairy
• free from lactose
• free from eggs
• free from wheat
• free from gluten
• free from phosphates
• free from BSP
• free from paraben
• free from silicone
• free from caffeine
• free from high fructose corn syrup
• free from sodium
• free from fragrances
• free from iodine
• free from chemicals
• free from PVCs
• free from dioxin
• free from PCBs
• free from alcohol
• free from aspirin

…we see these claims on product labels and advertisements everywhere.

More than half of the population is buying “free-from” products.

No doubt, this growing trend among the ‘worried well’ to view certain ingredients as harmful or even toxic has seen a seismic, some say historical, rise in the sale of “free- from” products.

Celebrity endorsements from the likes of Victoria Beckham, Miley Cyrus and Jessica Alba have helped fuel the trend, even among people who have no food allergies or intolerance. The “free-from” sector appears to be cashing in on a belief that these products are in some ways better than normal food and products, even for people who are perfectly fit and healthy.

The “free-from” market is one of the biggest success stories in the supermarket industry as they continue to make shelf room for hundreds of new “free-from” products every year.

And while far more consumers buy into “free-from” than have been diagnosed with a food-related condition, a new report from Mintel says there is much more to this sector’s success than its association with food allergies or Hollywood A-listers.

There are gluten-free beers on sale for the first time and more people shopping for gluten-free breakfast cereals is treble in three years. Point in fact, Cheerios just launched a multi-million dollar campaign touting that all 8 varieties of their cereal are now “gluten-free.”
New research shows the power AND the confusion with “free-from” claims.
The question is, do “free-from” claims convince people that they need to avoid the missing ingredients? To find out, researchers showed 256 adults two pairs of cracker labels. One pair showed crackers with or without a “gluten-free” claim. The second pair showed crackers with or without a “MUI-free” claim. There is no food constituent called MUI. The researchers made it up. But when asked which of each pair was healthier, 26 percent picked the “gluten-free” crackers and 22 percent picked the “MUI-free” crackers. Most (65 percent) said there was no difference (11 percent said the conventional crackers were healthier).
The danger of course is assuming that “free-from” claims are healthier or better for you. Yet the research noted above (albeit a limited sampling size) suggests the power of “free-from” claims nonetheless.

Beauty products and fabrics have grabbed onto “toxic-free” bandwagon.

Did you know that our skin absorbs 60% of any topical product we use and more than 10,000 ingredients are allowed for use in our personal care items? Shocking? Indeed.

Many of these ingredients are hazardous to our health but they are used in everything from makeup to facial moisturizer, shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste, deodorant, and nail polish remover. I was amazed to read that the average woman wears nearly 515 chemicals a day and will eat nearly 4 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime, so you can well understand why so many woman are looking for lead-free and chemical-free lipstick.

The “toxic-free” trend in the personal care industry is growing as fast as the food industry. Take yourself to your nearest Fresh Market or Whole Foods to see aisles and aisles of “toxin-free” products. However, many consumer groups caution that even though a product claims to be organic or natural, or just because it’s being sold in a healthy store, does NOT mean that it is truly toxin-free. Yet many are. Everyday products free from harmful metals and chemicals. Chemicals like parabens that are added to personal care products to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the packaging. These additives are considered endocrine disruptors, which can lead to hormone-related cancers in adults and early onset of puberty in girls.

Certain fabrics too are laced with toxic chemicals. Vinyl shower curtains, for instance, are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can release chemical fumes that linger in your home for months and can impact your health.

Consumer pressure is spawning many new “free-from” initiatives.

A coalition of consumer, health and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumer Reports publisher Consumers Union and dozens of other groups, are claiming that the restaurant industry is not doing enough to reduce the use of antibiotics in meat production despite consumer demand and major public health concerns.
The “free-from antibiotics” movement has put pressure on the entire industry to get more aggressive in reducing the use of antibiotics in meat and poultry. And since nearly half of the money Americans devote to food is spent on meals outside the home, these “free-from” groups claim that large restaurant chains have substantial influence over the meat we eat and how it is produced, and therefore, have a responsibility to embrace the “free-from” movement.
Just last week, more than 100 health, consumer and environmental groups sent a letter to restaurant chain CEOs, urging them to take more aggressive action to require suppliers to cut back or eliminate antibiotic use. In fact, a new report examined the antibiotics policies at 25 large restaurant chains, and gave all but five of them what the groups consider failing grades. The report said the use of human antibiotics in animal farming has been linked to antibiotic resistance, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics that 2 million Americans get antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 die every year.
According to the report, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread received the highest marks as the only two large chains that publicly affirm that most of their meat and poultry is “free-from antibiotics.” Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s Corp. and Dunkin’ Donuts also received passing grades for committing to eliminate the use of certain meats produced with antibiotics.
What about BPA-free claims for plastics, food containers, and water supply lines?

BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that is used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s.

BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles. They may also be used in other consumer goods.

Epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some dental sealants and composites also may contain BPA.

Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.

However, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned BPA from baby bottles and such, they maintain that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods. This assessment is based on review of hundreds of studies.

The FDA is continuing its review of BPA, including supporting ongoing research. In the meantime, marketers have jumped on the “free-from” bandwagon and have continued to label their products “BPA-free.” products have come to market. If a product isn’t labeled, keep in mind that some, but not all, plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA. Some consumers have reduced or eliminated their use of canned foods since most cans are lined with BPA-containing resin. But while I see very few food and beverage manufacturers touting BPA-free cans, many have moved to packaging their products in glass containers.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the millions of people who continue to microwave polycarbonate plastics or put them in the dishwasher, since The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says that the plastic may break down over time and allow BPA to leach into foods.

Target Corp. has expanded the list of chemicals it wants suppliers to take out of their products.

The list includes almost 600 substances on Health Canada’s roster of prohibited cosmetic ingredients, such as coal tars and bisphenol A. It also adds triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient that is under review in hand soaps and sanitizers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and was banned from products in Target’s home state last year.

According to a recent article in Bloomberg Business, Target made the changes earlier this year without publicizing them, but a Washington-based advocacy group called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families plans to spotlight the list this week. Though Target isn’t prohibiting the ingredients outright, the move gives consumer-products companies fresh incentives to identify and eliminate controversial substances. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a similar program for manufacturers, including a list of substances that the retailer doesn’t post publicly.

For suppliers, complying with Target’s program is a way to get more exposure, according to Bloomberg’s article. In exchange for cooperating, the retailer may be inclined to help promote their products or give them more shelf space.

What’s next in the “free-from” front?

Fortunately, and unfortunately, the “free-from” movement may just be beginning. Look for new products in the coming years such as nasal sprays, shampoos and antiperspirant deodorants free from mercury, lead, arsenic, aluminum and cadmium. Fish free from PCB’s. Chlorinated cleaners free from dioxins. Baby lotions and cosmetics free from parabens, and hair spray, mousse, room sprays, and perfumes free from phthalates. Household cleaners, furniture polishes, air fresheners, hair relaxers, adhesives, foams, plastics, toiletries, aftershave lotions free from VOC’s. Cosmetics and nail polish free from toluene. And all sorts of personal care products free from synthetic fragrances linked to hormone disruption. Joy to the world!

STUART DORNFIELD is an award-winning freelance Creative Director/Copywriter with more than 40 years experience in marketing, strategy, advertising and production. As the former Sr. VP-Creative Director of Zimmerman Advertising (Omnicom), the 13TH largest agency in the U.S., and the former co-founder of Gold Coast Advertising, 3rd largest agency in South Florida, today Stuart offers his creative services and marketing insights as a freelancer with offices in New York and Miami. http://www.stuartdornfield.com