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Innovation in Meals: The Pursuit of Natural

January 2020

Pure nutrient manipulation is no longer the main indicator of a product’s healthfulness, as the level of processing and freshness is also a cause for concern among consumers. This leads to the increasing importance of a natural positioning that emphasises authenticity and the simplicity of production, portraying a holistic view of wellness. Cooking ingredients must convey values close to consumers’ health and ethical beliefs.

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Key Findings

Shift towards natural claims and clean labels as consumers become wary of over-processed food

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the health risks of highly processed packaged foods; an image which cooking ingredients and meal products are particularly associated with. Health claims and ethical labels that convey a simpler production process are being favoured.

Innovation needs to shift focus from nutrient manipulation to positive ingredient selection and their natural benefit

Consumers’ focus is shifting from the reduction in sugar, salt or fat towards the more naturally wholesome attributes of a product and a nutritionally balanced meal. Meal solution products will increasingly be expected to be “Organic” and “free from” unwanted ingredients rather than better-for-you; while also “natural” and “locally sourced”.

A local approach to natural positioning must be taken in cooking meals and ingredients

Among saturated markets such as Western Europe, a simple and positive image combined with novel, natural flavours can stand out in the aisles. In more developing regions such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East and Africa, clean labels such as no preservatives or no MSG can enable a brand to shift to the premium end.

A holistic approach to natural positioning including transparency of practice will truly enable disruption

As brand disruption becomes a more common trait in packaged food, innovation needs to be approached holistically. This not only implies a clear message through ingredient selection and natural and clean labels; but also gaining consumer traction through transparency of practice, notably through “locally sourced” labels, as part of the brand’s story.



Key findings

From Highly Processed to Natural

Focus on clean label in era of minimally processed food
Demand for less processed food calls for re-positioning
Natural image a challenge amid requirements of processed foods
Shift in health claims towards naturally positive nutritional attributes
Health and ethics increasingly linked in future ‘natural’ claims

Re-Positioning to Natural: Case Studies

Most top HW packaged food firms have focused on nutrition
Achieving more natural positioning: three case studies
Danone: Balancing nutrition with a more wholesome health image
Danone’s natural claims stand out in dips which lacked focus on health
Heinz focuses on strengthening tomato pastes and purées in Egypt
Heinz leads the marriage of clean label with convenience
Knorr: natural has been a part of its brand story for years
Knorr Natural emphasises absence of MSG in Southeast Asia
Smaller brands rise, leveraging cleaner, natural positioning
Start-ups’ innovation to accelerate pursuit of natural positioning


Natural claims risk losing credibility as consumers become savvier
Repositioning as a wholesome, natural product is a holistic effort
Natural claims: the sweet spot of health and ethical values


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