“Clean label” is one of the top marketing buzz phrases of recent years, as Americans continue to say they want foods that are not only good for them but that they can understand — and pronounce — when they see them on an ingredient panel.

To establish their clean-label bona fides, producers of meats sold in grocery perimeter departments need to make sure their packaging is doing everything it can to get those messages across to consumers. That’s where dietary callouts come into play.

Americans are continually raising the bar on what they demand from the producers of the foods they buy when it comes to healthfulness, says Lenny Lebovich, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Pre Brands.

“To today’s premium consumer, ‘grass fed’ and other health and social characteristics are quickly becoming table stakes,” Lebovich says. “There are lots of companies out there who sell grass-fed beef with any number of other dietary callouts. So, to really distinguish yourself in the category, you must do more.”

Pre grocery retail meats bear Whole30-approved and Paleo-certified labels, and they will soon add a Non-GMO Project-verified label, Lebovich says. 

Erin Thacker, associate innovation manager and nutritionist for Smithfield, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, agrees with Lebovich that consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated when it comes to what they consider healthful in their food choices.

“They’re continuing to look for clean labels and ‘better for you’ products, but they’re now educating themselves beyond the ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims that are predominant in meat product packaging,” she says.

In addition, almost three out of four consumers say they’d pay more for a product that offers complete transparency, Thacker says, citing Nielsen’s 2017 Clean Label Report.


Clean label, front and center               

In 2018, Garner, North Carolina-based turkey specialist Butterball completed a three-year product refresh to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, says Kyle Lock, Butterball’s senior director of retail marketing.

The company now offers three lines to satisfy them: All-Natural, Farm to Family by Butterball and Farm to Family by Butterball Organic Turkey. All are free of antibiotics, and All-Natural products contain no nitrates or nitrites, are minimally processed and come from animals to which no hormones or steroids were given.

Complementing the product refresh at Butterball was a complete revamping of the company’s packaging to draw attention to all of those health benefits, Lock says. Prominent, easy-to-read nutrition labels are now displayed on the front of packs, and products carry the Certified Responsible Antibiotics Use (CRAU) seal. 


Filling the education gap

High-protein is one of the dietary callouts Smithfield and other meat producers are pushing. But the educational gap can often be daunting. Thacker cited 2018 Nielsen data which showed that 45 to 64 percent of consumers didn’t consider beef, chicken and pork to be “high in protein.”

Add to that the background noise of all the other marketing messages the average consumer hears in a given day, and the task becomes even more daunting, Thacker says.

“It’s been said that the average American sees or hears 4,000-plus ads per day,” she says. “It can be difficult to break through this clutter with information that consumers will find valuable to improving their own lives.”

To get its good-health messages out, Smithfield Marinated Fresh Pork products have a call-out on-pack to let consumers know of the all-natural formulation – namely, that the product is made of just pork broth, vinegar and salt.

“A majority of our fresh pork products have added bursts on labels, so that consumers can easily identify the amount of protein offered per serving and trust that our products have no artificial ingredients, added hormones, or steroids,” Thacker adds.



Transparency — product and packaging

Pre’s dual-sided transparent packaging was designed with callouts in mind.  The company utilizes the front of the pack – including under the beef – and the back to highlight important claims and callouts, educate consumers about each cut, share helpful information about optimal cooking and prep and to share its story with consumers, Lebovich says.

“The packaging complements our other marketing and consumer engagement, both in-person and online, to ensure we reach and are helpful to consumers where they live, shop and eat,” he says. “In a world of clean labels, total transparency is the cleanest label you can find.”

Despite all that, Lebovich says it’s still not easy to communicate as effectively as Pre would like.

“It is always a challenge to get all of our messages and our full story out to consumers,” Lebovich says. “There’s a tremendous amount of noise in the marketplace, and consumers are confronted with a barrage of information day in and day out, all of which makes it harder.”

The beef category in particular has been marred by inconsistency over the years, particularly in the grass fed category, Lebovich says. That’s created a negative bias towards grass-fed beef for many consumers.


Getting the message through 

One way Smithfield has attempted to cut through the marketplace noise is to work with health and well-being bloggers and influencers who already have a following that trusts their messages and looks to them for guidance.

In 2018, Smithfield partnered with the American Heart Association to place the group’s logo on Smithfield Fresh Pork packaging to help consumers make educated decisions at shelf and drive awareness of the heart-check certification. And in addition to packaging, Thacker says, Smithfield helps promote heart-healthy, protein-packed recipes via the Smithfield website and social media channels, as well as on in-store collateral.

“We also have relationships with retailer dietitians at major supermarkets across the country including ShopRite, Albertsons, Jewel, H-E-B and United Supermarkets,” she says.

Also as part of its retail efforts, earlier this year Smithfield launched its Smithfield Balance platform as a digital resource focused on educating dietitians, nutritionists, and consumers on how to easily integrate fresh pork into everyday recipes and build healthy meal solutions.

The site includes nutritional print and digital toolkits, health trends, fact sheets and videos that highlight the health benefits of fresh pork.





No added hormones/antibiotics

Whole 30



No artificial ingredients

No nitrates/nitrites




Don’t overdo it

Nutrition information is of paramount importance to today’s premium consumers. But too many dietary callouts risks minimizing taste appeal in a product, placing it in a consumer’s “good for me” schema, rather than their “tasty, desirable, delicious” schema.

“This is true across the board in food, but it’s especially pertinent in beef,” says Lenny Lebovich, founder and CEO of Pre Brands.

In general, Lebovich says,  when people are shopping for beef, they aren’t looking for healthy beef, per se – they’re looking for great-tasting beef, and they’d like for it to be healthy too.

“In making dietary claims on pack, you risk giving the perception that it’s a health product, not necessarily tasty or enjoyable.”

Taste is and will forever remain king — and the top reason people eat and buy food, he says. That makes it critical to strike a balance in labeling and to always, first and foremost, provide a consistently great eating experience.


“Consumers are noticing all-natural, organic, grass-fed, hormone-free and antibiotic-free claims on meat/poultry packages. Claim awareness has the highest positive impact on purchase likelihood for humanely-raised, hormone-free and antibiotic-free.” From “Top Findings of the Power of Meat 2018,” North American Meat Institute, Food Marketing Institute