Less is more: why consumers are increasingly seeking fewer ingredients


In 2013, GlobalData reported that 59% of consumers found products “formulated with the lowest number of ingredients possible” somewhat or very appealing; by 2015, this number had jumped to 70%. Why do people want more food with fewer ingredients?

Frequent health scares, food scandals, fad diets and unexpected ingredient exposés prompt consumers to be more concerned about their food and its origins. The internet and social media in particular make this information instantly available, with food bloggers and amateur nutritionists propagating their opinions on a daily basis. The end result is people want a shift towards more simplified, natural products.

Michael Pollan, influential author of 'In Defence of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto', famously made the argument to not eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce, and “don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”. Such a rule is a simplistic breakdown of nutrition advice that resonates with consumers. This encourages the embrace of whole foods due to the reinforced perception of simpler, more natural products being superior, healthier or less-damaging.

People think that artificial sweeteners and preservatives are actively harmful

According to GlobalData’s Q3 2016 research, three quarters of global consumers completely or somewhat agreed with the statement that “artificial sweeteners and preservatives are harmful” to their health. To consumers, a simpler product without these additions has fewer things to potentially go wrong with it and is easier to be seen as more authentic, clean and comforting.

Food scandals are a global issue and condition buying behaviors through fear

Despite rising global food standards, food scandals over ingredients, additives and hygiene periodically hit the media. In 2013, the European food industry experienced the horsemeat scandal, pushing down sales volumes of certain processed meat segments, such as sausages, the following year.

As recently as the end of January 2017, the French government ordered an inquiry into titanium oxide – a food additive used in chewing gums, biscuits, and sauces – to determine if it poses a health risk to humans after a study found it caused precancerous lesions in lab animals.

In 2017, the China Food and Drug Administration stated that the overuse of food additives and microbial contamination were the primary food safety problems facing China in 2016. They accounted for more than 64% of all food safety problems found in random inspections by the authority.

Natural simplicity appeals to cautious consumers

Consumers’ concerns regarding food, ingredients and additives will encourage them to seek out simplicity because it offsets the uncertainty in their life and in their food. A GlobalData study in in Q3 2016 found that 61% of consumers found food products that reminded them of their childhood and simpler times appealing or very appealing, and 63% of consumers reported that ‘natural’ claims made a product seem more authentic according to research from GlobalData’s 2015 Q1 survey.

Many consumers value safety, tradition, simplicity and reassurance in their lives, and they seek a simpler life through simpler, less-artificial products. Fewer ingredients illustrated on clean packaging offer a relatively quick route to acceptance by this group.