Consumers want azodicarbonamide and potassium bromate out of their bread, but they don’t mind artificial dyes in a birthday cake, said Abby Ceule, director of market management for bread at Corbion Caravan.

“Bottom line, people are less focused on ingredients and health when they’re eating sweet goods,” Ms. Ceule said during a panel presentation at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), held Oct. 8-11 in Las Vegas. “When we are looking at sweet goods, we shop with our eyes. People are less likely to turn that package around and see what’s in it.”

Two years ago, Corbion Caravan, a Lenexa, Kas.-based bakery ingredient supplier, conducted research to better understand consumer perceptions and expectations of clean label, a term that has not been consistently defined across the industry.

“The definition isn’t quite so tidy… is it about something that’s healthier? Is it about specific ingredients?” Ms. Ceule said. “From this survey, we found out that some consumers are really zoned in on ingredients, and some are looking for a healthier label around reduced calories, reduced fat, and then there are other consumers who don’t care what’s out there; they’re just buying based on price.”

Woman reading ingredients panel
Ingredient-focused consumers are likely to analyze the ingredients panel to find out what is in their food.

The study revealed that 60% of consumers say the type of ingredients in a product has an impact on their purchasing decisions. Of these individuals, 43% are nutrition-focused, 33% are ingredient-focused, and 24% are less engaged.

Of the latter group, Ms. Ceule said, “There are some consumers out there who say, ‘ingredients matter to me,’ but they’re not willing to pay more for it. They’re not going to make every decision based off of it, but when there’s something on the front of the pack that really speaks to them, they’re going to pick it up.”

Ingredient-focused consumers are less concerned with front-of-pack claims and nutritional information, “but they’re going to go to that ingredient panel, and they’re going to look and see what’s in it,” she said. “’Can I pronounce it? Is it familiar? Is it something I’m trying to avoid?’”

Conversely, nutrition-focused consumers, the largest segment, are driven by dietary factors and general health concerns.

“They may be just looking for lower-calorie foods,” she said. “They’re less likely to be impacted by the length of ingredients.”

Both ingredient-focused and nutrition-focused consumers are willing to pay more for products with 12 or fewer ingredients, the research revealed. However, Ms. Ceule noted, taste, convenience and a host of other factors remain critical to driving purchasing decisions.

“At the end of the day, consumers are telling us what they want, but … from a supplier standpoint and a manufacturing standpoint … where are they willing to make the tradeoff?” Ms. Ceule said. “They say they want these things, but in reality are they willing to pay for it? Are they willing to take some of the functional tradeoffs that there are with going clean label (such as) a taste difference? Some are, and some are not.”

And when it comes to sweet goods, the expectations of taste and appearance are especially important.

“Sweet goods are where people are willing to have a little more leniency because it’s an indulgence,” Ms. Ceule said. “If I think about a standard birthday cake, my guess is they’re probably not going to be as concerned there. That’s not to say in the future there may not be more of a focus on it, but we haven’t seen that thus far.”

While consumers are less concerned about ingredients in sweet goods, they are more likely to pay attention to front-of-pack claims, she said.

“We found that while people are not going to turn around the label, they may be willing to look at a front-of-pack claim, but don’t make too many of them,” she said. “If you have one front-of-pack claim that says ‘no preservatives,’ that may be enough for a sweet goods consumer to go ahead and make that purchase.”