Getting to Know the Clean Label Bread Consumer

For consumers discerning what to buy at the grocery store, trust precedes purchase intent. Therefore, cultivating trust is critical to the success of food brands. When it comes to deciding which products to trust in the bread aisle, many of today’s consumers look at packaging for visual cues to inform their purchase decision. In fact, nearly nine-in-10 consumers spend time reading product labels, according to a report from the NPD Group.

In particular, consumers are paying attention to the ingredients list, which provides cues about the trustworthiness of a product. The team at Lesaffre Corporation, a global leader in innovative baking ingredients, wanted to learn more about what consumers are looking for on ingredients lists, especially as it pertains to “clean label” baked goods.

The “clean label” trend refers to a growing preference among consumers for products with simple, understandable ingredients that each have a clear purpose. In 2020, Lesaffre partnered with C+R Research, a market research company, to study the clean label consumer. The goal was to gain insights into buyers of baked goods and what they look for in clean label baked goods ingredients. Baked goods buyers from the general population, as well as those who currently look for clean label foods, were included in the study. Watch this video for an overview of the study.


Key objectives for the study were to discover how consumers perceive clean label ingredients in baked goods and what impacts decisions in the bread aisle. The research consisted of two phases, one qualitative and one quantitative. To identify perceptions of clean labeling in baked goods, the qualitative phase included 18 ethnographic shop-alongs and six focus groups in two major markets. These findings informed the development of the quantitative phase, which consisted of an online survey. The survey included a 15-minute interview and was completed by a representative sample of 1,327 bread purchasers.

Defining “Clean Label”

What do “clean label” and “clean eating” mean to consumers? According to the study, most consumers are familiar with the terms but tend not to use them. About 68% have heard of the term “clean eating” and 64% have heard of the term “clean label.”

However, consumers do not tend to view themselves as “clean label shoppers.” Rather, they identify with an overall healthy lifestyle and wellness. Most consumers in the study described their eating styles as balanced, fresh, or whole. While there is no standardized definition of “clean label,” consumers revealed in interviews a preference for products that are:

  • Free from preservatives and additives
  • Made with recognizable, natural ingredients
  • Perceived to be healthy and nutritious

As a relatively new phrase, “clean eating” is not readily understood by many older consumers. However, across age groups, most consumers associate “clean” terms with the food’s ingredients. Subsequently, top purchase decision drivers include if a bread is made with ingredients with “clean” attributes.

Decision Drivers

First and foremost, enjoyment is the key consideration for most consumers. Results from the study showed that nearly two-thirds (64%) don’t follow the latest diet trends, and more than half (57%) want to enjoy food. In fact, most decisions to purchase a particular bread are primarily driven by taste and texture. Notably, 62% of consumers said they prefer breads with simple, recognizable ingredients.

What Consumers Want in Bread

Over half (56%) of respondents in the study said they read nutrition labels/ ingredients carefully before buying. Moreover, nearly three-quarters (74%) would switch brands for more in-depth product information. More than half (56%) said they seek out recognizable ingredients and nearly two-thirds (65%) seek out the shortest ingredient lists.

Generational Differences

Consumers’ behavioral response to ingredient and nutrition information differs across age groups. Overall, nearly two-thirds (64%) try to cut sugar and carbs. However, Gen Z (44%) is more likely to look for locally sourced ingredients, whereas Millennials (66%) are more likely to eat with long term health in mind. The generation most likely to have teens at home, Gen X (55%), is also the most likely to reject junk food. In contrast, Boomers (71%) are the least likely generation to want to change their personal eating habits.

Drivers of bread purchases vary by age group. Overall, consumers of all ages favor the bread aisle, but younger generations (Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X) are more likely than Boomers to shop the bakery section along the store perimeter. The youngest generation, Gen Z, seeks fair trade and organic ingredients in bread. Observational data from the study showed Gen Z consumers are more likely to explore the store and to read labels.

Millennials, on the other hand, are most concerned with healthy ingredients. This group is most interested in bread and baked goods with a clean label. Like Gen Z, Millennials also carefully read food labels and tend to prefer fresh foods.

Gen X is more narrowly focused on products free-from preservatives. They are willing to explore the store and are more price-sensitive than consumers in other age groups. Boomers, conversely, care the most about taste. Unlike younger shoppers, this generation is more likely to shop by routine and the least likely to shop in the bakery section.

Clean Label: Attitudes and Purchase Behavior

Quantitative results showed that heavy bread purchasers (60%) are more interested in purchasing bread with a clean label than the average shopper (53%). Generationally, Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X are more likely to be interested in bread with a clean label than Boomers. However, Gen Z is less enthusiastic than Millennials and Gen X, who were the most likely to be very interested in breads with “clean” attributes.

Similarly, Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X are more likely than Boomers to be interested in other baked goods, like crackers, tortillas, and desserts, with a clean label. Furthermore, Millennials and Gen Z are significantly more likely than Gen X or Boomers to demonstrate purchase intent for baked goods with a clean label.

The study also found that consumers look for visual cues on baked goods packaging that communicate “clean” attributes like authenticity, simplicity, and transparency. In particular, consumers mentioned that they are attracted to goods with a hand-crafted look, reduced packaging, and are transparent on the label.

Moreover, bread consumers are drawn to natural, familiar ingredients. Fiber, calcium, and yeast are the ingredients the most consumers find “clean.” Hard-to-pronounce and chemical names are not considered “clean.” Unfortunately, this applies to many ingredients essential to commercial-scale production of breads and other baked goods.

Why Consumers Reject Ingredients in Baked Goods

Clean Label Replacement Solutions

Emulsifiers are such an ingredient. The functionality of sodium stearoyl lactylate (SSL), calcium stearoyl lactylate (CSL), and diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides (DATEM) are critical for achieving ideal texture, crumb, and softness in rolls, buns, and other breads. Similarly, preservatives, anti-staling agents, and other extended shelf-life (ESL) ingredients that are not perceived as “clean” are nonetheless critical to quality in the finished product.

Lesaffre’s Saf-Pro™ STAR-ZYME™, and NMI XtendLife™ ingredients effectively replace the functionality of emulsifiers and ESL ingredients while also maintaining a clean label. Explore the website to find out more about our clean label dough conditioning and shelf-life extension solutions or contact us to speak with our team’s technical experts about custom solutions that fit your needs for clean label functionality in bakery production.

Saf-Pro™ STAR-ZYME™, and NMI XtendLife™ all offer clean label alternatives to these ingredients and much more.

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