Consumer expectations around clean label continue to evolve and expand. Many consumers associate claims like “natural,” gluten-free, no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, non-GMO, or organic with a better-for-you choice, explains Allison Leibovich, senior technical service specialist, bakery, Cargill.

Sugar content is also a factor, especially as the keto movement, which emphasizes reducing carbohydrates, continues to grow.

“In its most recent iteration, we’re seeing today’s clean expectations extend further, encompassing animal welfare, sustainability, transparency and more. Increasingly, consumers – especially younger consumers – look for products they perceive as heathier for them and the planet,” Leibovich says.

Without question, label-friendly formulation – however you define it – is here to stay.

At the same time, taste and affordability are still very important to consumers. Bakers can create sustainably sourced, health-oriented products made with minimally processed, label-friendly ingredients – but if they don’t taste great or are priced too high, they won’t sell. Leibovich says.

Emerging trends

Cargill starts by closely monitoring evolving consumer attitudes and emerging trends in the marketplace. Tools like its proprietary FATitudes® research and its broader IngredienTracker™ survey help Cargill gauge consumers’ awareness, perceptions and behaviors around a wide swath of food ingredients.

The insights gleaned from these efforts help Cargill’s product innovators, as well as its customers, understand what consumers want, enabling them to develop innovative products that deliver on changing needs and desires, says Jamie Mavec, marketing manager, Cargill.

“In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s no longer enough to create a great-tasting product,” Mavec says. “Increasingly, it’s the compelling story that captivates consumers. Shoppers expect companies to provide information and a high degree of honesty about ingredients, including their origin and production processes.”

According to 2020 data from HealthFocus International, 70% of global consumers prefer to buy food or beverages when they know where it was grown or produced. The International Food Information Council Foundation, in its 2020 Food Survey, noted that more than half of U.S. consumers said knowing where their food comes from was important.

“At Cargill, we’ve taken those desires to heart, developing supply chains that can deliver on those demands for transparency and sustainability. In the oils space, for example, Cargill offers RSPO-segregated palm oil (we’re now one of the largest suppliers in North America), and for unparalleled transparency, our closed-loop high oleic canola supply chain provides traceability from seed development to end product,” Mavec says.

“We’ve made huge progress bringing greater transparency and traceability to our cocoa sourcing, too. At the completion of the 2018/19 crop year, half of our direct cocoa supply chain was fully traceable from farm to factory. In Ghana, we’ve gone one step further; each bag of cocoa beans we purchase can be traced to one of the 27,000 individual cocoa farmers we partner with, thanks to our fully traceable barcode system.”

Sustainability capabilities

To demonstrate how bakers can bring it all together, Cargill created its Sustainable Cookie Concept. Made with RSPO-certified palm oil, responsibly sourced chocolate chips, sustainably produced stevia, and traceable pea protein, the cookie showcases Cargill’s sustainability capabilities across ingredients and supply chains, explains Gretchen Hadden, marketing communications manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America.

Cargill is beginning to see an increased proliferation of baked goods infused with ingredients designed to give a nutritional boost. Protein is a great example; consumers recognize the benefits of consuming protein and they strive to consume more.

Plant protein, in particular, enjoys a clear health halo. Fiber is another ingredient that easily falls into this space, especially as interest in digestive health is on the rise. Data from Innova Market Insights shows bakery launches with fiber claims were up 4% and protein claims were up 7% from 2015 to 2019.

Beyond protein and fiber, as consumers’ appetite for better-for-you products intensifies, there’s an opportunity to fortify baked goods and snacks with a wide range of nutrients, from plant sterols for heart health to postbiotics for immune support.

“Finally, as consumers place greater emphasis on health, we expect sugar reduction will get more attention – even in the indulgent sweet goods category. The key to success for any of these better-for-you efforts: making these ingredient adjustments without diminishing the sensory appeal of the indulgent treat,” says Leibovich.