Maple Leaf Foods gets real

Canadian food company is removing artificial preservatives from its Maple Leaf brand portfolio
Maple Leaf Natural Bacon (CNW Group/Maple Leaf Foods Inc.)

With consumer preferences for less-processed, more natural foods growing more pronounced, Maple Leaf Foods has overhauled its line of bacon, hot dogs, ham, deli meats and sausages to include only natural ingredients.

CEO Michael McCain announced the changes as a strategic focus for Maple Leaf back in February. On Monday, Maple Leaf unveiled some of the specifics for what it called “the most sweeping changes” in the company’s history.

“The trend toward consumers expecting more from their food is pretty apparent,” said Adam Grogan, senior vice-president, marketing and innovation, in a phone interview with Canadian Grocer. “We believe fundamentally that real food doesn’t have to be complicated.”

Artificial preservatives, flavours, colours or sweeteners are out—no more tetrapotassium pyrophosphate or autolyzed yeast extract. Instead the company is promising total transparency about what goes into its meat product and “legible, pronounceable ingredients.”

Maple Leaf Foods Inc--Maple Leaf introduces sweeping changes to

The Maple Leaf site includes a page listing the “go go” ingredients which are being used now and the “no no” ingredients that have been axed by the company. (As a natural preservative, Maple Leaf is using cultured celery extract a natural source of nitrite.)

The reformulated products will have a new logo, packaging and, to ensure every customer gets the point about the changes, more prominent, easy to read ingredient lists on all products.

The Maple Leaf approach is also spelled out in a “New Food Manifesto” that opens with the straightforward declaration: “We make real food from simple ingredients you can pronounce.”

To resonate with parents of young children, the manifesto states that “We believe high-quality protein is the foundation for healthy, growing bodies, so we prepare simple, delicious protein to nourish Canadian families.”

“This is a brand that has deep connections to parents,” said Grogan. “And they want to feel good about what they are serving.”

Maple Leaf Foods Inc--Maple Leaf introduces sweeping changes to

A change of this magnitude was not easy and Maple Leaf has been working on the changes for 18 months, said Grogan.

“What we have undertaken is to completely overhaul and change the entirety of the Maple Leaf brand in every SKU that is in Canadian retail,” he said. That total SKU count is about 100 and Maple Leaf will continue to make and sell its Natural Selections line, which includes deli meats, shredded meats and carved meats.

There was extensive consumer research, with 10,000 consumers surveyed across the country. The goal was not only to understand how they feel about the brand or the importance of natural ingredients, but more fundamental issues like how and when they eat, who they are eating with and the importance of convenience of health considerations, he said.

Maple Leaf has already started shipping some of the new product, with new items being introduced over the course of the year. The relaunch is being supporting with a national marketing campaign on TV, billboards, digital and print. “If you can’t spell it, you won’t find it in our food,” is the message line in a TV commercial that shows kids at a spelling bee challenged to spell some of the multi-syballic artificial ingredients.

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