Toward the end of 2015, many industry experts predicted that the term “clean eating” would dominate consumer trends this year. It looks like they were right. The consumer transition toward clean eating has happened so fast, it has even worked its way into the diet industry, as consumers prefer unprocessed foods over diet products.

As a result, brands and product developers are responding to these changes by going back to the drawing board in order to offer cleaner products free of artificial dyes, artificial flavors, and other additives.

Back to basics

At its core, clean eating is a move back to whole, unprocessed foods. However, this trend doesn’t mean that consumers are returning back to the days when every family ate meals made from scratch in their own kitchen. Today’s consumers are looking to store shelves for options that offer the best of both worlds: natural, nutritious foods free of preservatives that are also convenient and shelf-stable.

And brands are responding. Whole Foods Market, a natural foods retailer, published a list of unacceptable ingredients that the retailer promises not to include in any of the products on store shelves. In that same spirit, the fast-food chain Subway has started offering antibiotic-free meat, a first for the company, and a great indicator of the direction the fast-food industry is going. When it comes to consumer packaged goods, there’s a growing list of companies pledging to switch to natural ingredients.

Looking beyond labels

As clean eating sweeps the nation, more consumers are using terms like “clean label” and “clear label” , often without a solid understanding of the difference. There’s a lot of confusion about what these terms truly mean, but for consumers these labels help them to separate acceptable vs. unacceptable food choices. Consumers may talk about clean labels, but what they really want is an assurance that the food they’re eating is as natural and whole as it can be.

Looking closer at labels allows consumers to determine whether brands mirror their values. Consumers want to support companies that demonstrate a clear commitment to health, sustainability, and quality ingredients. Astute brands need to use every aspect of their marketing and packaging to demonstrate their values — even the label. But it’s not only about the label itself; it’s about whether or not the label hints to customers that this brand has their best interest (and health) at heart.

The rise of snacks

Snacking was traditionally synonymous with convenience food, which was synonymous with “unhealthy.” But that’s no longer the case. Brands are responding to consumer demands for snack options that are both wholesome and convenient. Snacking in between meals is no longer seen as a sinful act; it’s increasingly embraced as a great way to keep blood sugar stable and energy high throughout the day and to achieve nutritional goals.

As a part of cleaning up their diets, consumers are paying more attention to products that are portable and shelf-stable, yet free of preservatives, sugars, salt, and other additives. They want clear insight into how their products are made, and they’re seeking more options for snacks. It’s no wonder, then, that when Business Insider asked buyers at Whole Foods Market for their top food trend predictions for 2016, dehydrated foods were listed in the top three trends. (If only they knew more about the benefits of freeze-dried foods!) So what’s next for the clean eating revolution? What new consumer trends will brands be responding to by this time next year? Only time will tell. At Mercer Foods we believe that the shift to more natural and “clean-label” foods is a long term societal trend that will continue for many decades.

Do you have a sense of the future of the clean eating revolution? We’d love to hear about it. Join the conversation on Facebook! Want to learn more about our natural, additive-free freeze-dried products? Contact us!