The Rise of Food Transparency

By Chris DuBois


At a glance:

> Food transparency is a growing trend: consumers want to know where food comes from.
> Price gaps between organic and conventional food are decreasing.
> Organic, “no antibiotics ever” (NAE) meat claims and traceability will become more standard.

Whether it is worry over an E.coli contamination at a popular quick-serve chain restaurant or a viral video over animal treatment, consumers are highly focused on food safety and food origins. In fact, consumers are more concerned than ever about where their food comes from. They are not only making their concerns widely-known on social media, they are editing their shopping lists based on those concerns. That’s why the food transparency trend is growing.

At IRI, we define food transparency as “The consumer desire to know how and where food was grown or made” and “The consumer expectation for clarity, accuracy and usefulness of food-related information from the companies that produce and sell it.” There are two components: 1) primary product claims such as “organic” and “antibiotic free” and 2) grower information such as “GMO-free,” “cage free,” “sustainable” and “fair trade.”

Product primary claims continue to grow in both sales and their total contribution to their category. NAE chicken contributed 67 percent of total chicken sales growth while organic produce contributed 30 percent to total produce sales growth. As consumers’ focus on health and wellness remains high, organic attributes will continue to play a big role. At the same time, price gaps between organic and conventional food are decreasing, which will spur additional sales growth for organic food products.

Source: IRI FreshLook POS data, MULO, 52 weeks ending 11/29/2015

The Center for Food Integrity conducted a study last year that showed consumers not only want companies to be transparent about their business practices, they want transparent food product labeling and ingredients. We’re seeing that with the ongoing consumer discussions online about GMOs as well as the explosive growth of the “eat local” movement and farmers’ markets, where customers can talk to farmers directly about how food is grown.

Interestingly, consumers haven’t fully decided how they feel about GMOs. Many consumers just want the right to know if their food has GMO ingredients. While any negative sentiment consumers may have about GMO food is not currently targeted at retailers, there is an opportunity for them to help shape consumer conversations.

There is also a new idea brewing in food transparency: single-origin verified labeling. It essentially takes fair trade and non-GMO labeling to a whole new level with one label that shows the consumer exactly where the product came from. While it’s too early to say whether the idea will spread, as there is just one company that’s recently launched the concept, it’s an idea that is intriguing and well in line with consumers’ growing expectations of knowing more about their food. 

Over the next few years, I think it’s safe to expect that there will be much more growth in organic food, more meat claims such as NAE and gestation crate-free pork, as well as higher consumer demand for traceability. Local supply programs will get more sophisticated as well, as consumers continue their focus on health and wellness.

In the meantime, what can retailers do to capture growth in this new food paradigm?  

  • Drive major programs using strategically selected claims and attributes. Segmenting organic and natural product buyers can help you learn which claims and attributes resonate with which customers. This can drive more granular customer targeting and activation programs.
  • Use store-level insights to better target offerings and refine marketing programs. Every store is unique. A better understanding of what shoppers in certain stores in certain locations want is the first step to shaping your product assortment and offers to their needs.
  • Create strong local programs that integrate local farmers into retailers’ on-shelf marketing. Consumers want local and authentic food that they feel connected to. Help tell the farmers’ stories in store and online.  
  • Expand dialogue with consumers to educate and inform. Retailers have a unique opportunity to inform customers about food origins and safety, and get their input on products they’d like to see in the store.  
  • Incorporate millennials’ needs. Millennial CPG spending will increase 58 percent by 2020. A quarter of millennials currently eat organic while 45 percent of older millennials and 33 percent of younger millennials are looking for organic snack options specifically.

Very soon, adopting food transparency strategies will no longer be optional. Retailers who can use in-depth data, the latest consumer trends and new insights to foster more innovation in this area will be able to better leverage this emerging opportunity and develop their own fresh strategies to win.

For more information on top trends in fresh food, view our webinar series here or contact me at

How can we help you supercharge growth and profitability?


95% of CPG, retail, and health and beauty companies in the Fortune 100 work with us

Answer the question below:
= nine - six