The Top 15 Clean Label Questions, Answered by Consumers

The Top 15 Clean Label Questions, Answered By consumers


We went to the the root of the clean label movement to garner valuable information and insights.

What’s the root of the movement?


These 15 questions were provided by Go Clean Label and shaped by the consumer research experts at Product Dynamics, a division of RQA. This is a transcription from a free-flowing, qualitative consumer panel to collect general, holistic insights about the clean label movement. 

 This session was moderated by Judy Lindsey of Product Dynamics®.

Consumer Panel Profile, 8 in total:

  • Millennials – 4 panelists
  • Baby Boomers – 4 panelists



1. Thinking of foods and beverages, “natural” means ____________?



Millennial: “Something that hasn’t been altered.”

Millennial: “Man-made Ingredients.”

Millennial: “Something which has not been made using chemicals.”

Millennial: “Grown naturally without much involvement from humans.”

Baby Boomer: “I prefer to eat ‘chicken’ not ‘chicken with hormones in it’, so when it hasn’t been altered.”

Baby Boomer: “Nothing added or altered.”

Baby Boomer: “Small number of ingredients. With fewer ingredients, it’s less likely to be altered in some fashion and more simple.”

2. Where do you get your ingredient information?



Millennial: “Online.”

Millennial: “Social media, daily Facebook and Twitter articles.”

Millennial: “Men’s Health magazine.”

Baby Boomer: “In person interactions, people talk about healthy all the time.”

Millennial: “Google search at grocery store on smart phone.”

Baby Boomer: “Magazines, Dr. Oz. and my doctor.”

3. What sources do you discount?


Millennial: “I would discount the major brands because they have a lot of money in regards to their marketing…so much money that they don’t even have to be honest. Because they’re more concerned with themselves. Whether they’re honest or not, people will still buy their products.”

Baby Boomer: “When companies respond because they’re being forced to be ‘clean label’, but it is insincere and they have little mission or purpose-driven feel. It seems fake and all for corporate gain and I don’t like that.”

Baby Boomer: “If you read too many blog articles about food ingredients by unprofessional sites, it kinda freaks you out and you almost can’t eat anything.”

4. What about a product cues “natural” to you?



Regarding Label:

Millennial: “If the label has words that I can barely say, then I’m probably not gonna buy it.”

Baby Boomer: “If I watch a commercial and they talk about a product being natural, I go to the store and pick it up to see if it natural. I double check.”

Baby Boomer: “The less ingredients on the list, the more natural.”


5. How do you know a product is natural when you see it on the shelf?


Regarding appearance –

Millennial: “If the product has whole grains that I can see, you know that looks healthy. Like when you buy bread and see the grains throughout, unlike artificial white bread. You can tell it has that look.”

Millennial: “Pale, more dull colors usually mean a product is more natural, opposed to unnatural products that have been added to that are very bright and vibrant — basically mean that they’re fake.”

Regarding shopping market or venue –

Unanimous: Whole Foods

Unanimous: Trader Joe’s

Baby Boomer: Costco seems to be adding more organic items, you can trust them.

Millennial: Mariano’s — they seem to have a lot of organic.

6. Is organic and natural the same?


Baby Boomer: Sure? I don’t know. I’m probably not right.

Millennial: No, not in my mind because I asked someone at Whole Foods. So I think they’re different.

Baby Boomer: “What makes a product organic? Are companies just putting the ‘organic’ on there because they know that putting it on the label it will sell? They know people will jump on it and buy it.

Baby Boomer: I do research on which items I should buy in organic because sometimes it doesn’t matter. So if you research it, it’s good to know which is better for my children.

7. Tell me about you and food labels.


Baby Boomer: It depends on if I’m on a health kick or not, when I’m being healthy I look at labels a lot. And if I’m not being healthy I don’t look at labels because I don’t want to know.”

Millennial: “It depends. If I’m in a rush, I just grab things that I feel are okay. But if I have time to schedule grocery shopping, I’ll actually look. Sometimes I just look at labels because I feel like I’m supposed to, and even if I don’t like the label that doesn’t mean I won’t buy it.”

Baby Boomer: “I read a lot to learn about the basic staple products that I know I can grab, like fruit jam and almond butter, certain things where if I know this [gestures with left hand] isn’t the healthiest, but it’s healthier than this [gestures with right hand] and then I add to my info by talking to friends.” 

Millennial: “Sometimes it’s not always about the ingredients. If it says, ya know, ‘fairtrade’ I’m probably gonna get it. But I have certain products that are my go-to — based on a little bit of research and the quality of the food.”


8. Let’s talk about ingredients and claims. What do you avoid or seek out?



Baby Boomer: “If the label has too many words that I cannot pronounce, I tend to avoid it.”

Millennial: “I avoid trans-fat, high-sodium — because it bloats.”

Millennial: “I avoid gluten-free products, because the ones I’ve tasted weren’t that good. Like I could tell a major difference — the quality changes.”

Baby Boomer: “I like to mix it up. I avoid sugar-free and art sweeteners. I prefer real sugar sources.”

Baby Boomer: I always avoid high fructose corn syrup. I learned it very bad for you and there are a lot of other products that don’t have it, so I buy those.

9. How do you feel about products that list Artificial Flavors or Natural Flavors?


Millennial: “I think it’s always better to be natural. Whenever possible. If the product is supposed to be natural here, and it says is has something artificial in it, no [shakes head ‘no’]. I just think it’s always better to be natural.”

Baby Boomer: “I find it frustrating when you find a product that says: ‘Made with both Natural and Artificial Ingredients’. There’s an oatmeal on the market that has that statement…it might be natural with the oats but now that it has artificial in it, it’s no longer healthy. So I put it back on the shelf. Really confusing.”

10. “Consumers have become increasingly distrustful of their food.” True/Untrue?  Thoughts?



7 out of 8 Panelists Respond: “Yes.”

Baby Boomer: “Yes, I question some things. It all started when I started paying attention to the size of chicken parts. They’re much larger now, than when we were younger. So I start to question — what chicken walks around with wings this big [gestures entire arm span]. Something’s wrong with that chicken.”

Millennial: “Yes, I agree with that I feel like I need to read everything and talk to people constantly like — what about this? You know, I have children so I want to do the right thing.”

Millennial: “No, I’m 34 years old, I’ve managed to survive this long. But I do take into account my daughters and I am careful, because my oldest daughter has some bad allergies, so we keep that in mind when shopping.”

Baby Boomer: “Yes, it all started when my son got diagnosed with ADHD. He had to avoid red-dyes. And then I started wondered, why do all of these products use it, why do they put that in there? That shouldn’t be in our food. This isn’t new info that this isn’t good for kids, so why is it in products? Get it out. Do we need the drink to be red? Can it just be clear?…and we can all just get used to that? We give that stuff to kids because it’s all cute and pretty. But you are what you eat.”

Baby Boomer: “I’ve had a lot of friends and family die of cancer. And it made start to wonder if what we’re consuming could potentially be participating in the cancer rate…it just makes me wonder how much the food supply has to do with that [cancer].”

Moderator: Why?

Millennial: “I feel like there are so many opinions on everything that like as soon as you think you like a product, someone tells you “oh no no” so you have to switch it out.

Moderator: Who tells you?

Millennial: “On the news or blog or any type of social media — like this isn’t a good product, this product will cause this. So I change it out for a different option, but then eventually there will be something wrong with the new product.”

11. What can food companies do to gain your trust back? / Are things already being done?



Baby Boomer: “Literally farm-to-table concept needs to be a much bigger deal in the big scope of things. Truly from the ground to table.”

Baby Boomer: “I try to only buy organic, because I think consumers will drive it. So, I shop at Whole Foods and mostly buy organic.”

Millennial: “I think there’s a lot to be said about people who don’t eat red meat or much meat. I think we should have more fruits and vegetables. I read a lot of articles online about changing your method of eating red meat and that goes exactly to more balance in your diet.”



12. Have you heard of the term “clean label”?

Unanimous: “No.”

13. In your words as a consumer, what does or should “clean label” mean?



Baby Boomer: “Recyclable?”

Millennial: “Ingredients are accepted, almost approved, like it doesn’t have all the bad stuff we’ve been talking about.”

Baby Boomer: “I think that means if a company is being honest about what is in their product, you will see it on the label.”

Baby Boomer: “No preservatives.”

Millennial: “No artificial flavors.”


Here is Go Clean Label’s “clean label” definition:

[Below definition was shown to consumer panel to review.]

“Clean label is a consumer driven movement, demanding a return to ‘real food’ through transparency  and authenticity. Food products containing natural, familiar, simple ingredients that are easy to recognize, understand, and pronounce. No artificial ingredients or synthetic chemicals.”


14. What are your thoughts about the industry applying this as the “clean label” definition?



Millennial: “Sounds wonderful. But I’m thinking, ‘Hmm probably expensive.’ I like everything about it. But if it’s something I care about, I’m gonna buy it…I’m gonna do it.”

Baby Boomer: “When you consider what you spend on a cup of coffee and consider what you spend on other things, I mean what’s more important?”

Baby Boomer: “If it’s consumer driven, you want this definition to be more of the norm — ya know? And for more products to use this and use more natural ingredients and get back to where we were years and years ago. Like when everyone has butter, there was no margarine, you had butter. Your body knows butter. So yeah, this is a great definition.”

Baby Boomer: “I don’t like the word ‘synthetic’ chemical. Even if we know Vitamin C is technically a chemical, do we really want it called out as a ‘chemical’?”

Millennial: “I like the phrase ‘real food’. It encompasses every issue with food. I like it. And for me, I’ll buy it regardless of the price.”


15. If the food companies made it known that this is a statement they are committed to, how does that impact the trust factor?


Millennial: “Well, it would increase my trust because it says ‘transparency’. That is a big issue for me, so if companies were more transparent — they just need to tell the truth.”

Baby Boomer: “Yes.”

Millennial: “Not really. I guess, it would help aid the trust but to be honest it’s gonna take a lot of work from profit-driven, major food companies to gain my trust. Whereas more mom & pop grocery stores and smaller brands,  are more focused on what goes into their food. There are also so many buy-outs in the industry. Long story short, it’s going to take a long time but a step in the right direction.”

Baby Boomer: “Yes, if a big food company followed this definition I would trust them more. Small food companies might follow this definition but if their distribution is tiny, their products are gonna be very expensive. Larger companies can manufacture for cheaper, which means I can buy that product for cheaper.”


*Bonus question:

There are a lot of food companies that appear small and independent, but in reality when you pull back the curtain they’re actually owned by large food companies. Do any of you do research on that?



Millennial: “I don’t do that detailed amount of research. I do it a small amount on social media, if I see something really interesting I might look it up further, but I don’t get that deep in the research. I just don’t have time.”







Click here for more info about Go Clean Label™.

Click here to send us a message or shoot an email to