The consumer-driven shift toward fresher, cleaner foods isn't a fad. It is a movement that is here to stay.
That's the expert opinion shared by all three food-focused panelists that appeared at the Fortune MPW Next Gen conference in Laguna Niguel, California. Moderated by Fortune senior writer Beth Kowitt, top food executives from Campbell Soup (cpb), PepsiCo's (pep) Quaker Foods, and water startup Hint all agree that consumers are more interested in transparency and clear labeling—and they don't see interest in those healthier foods lessening at any point in the future.
"The new food consumer is moving toward fresher, cleaner labels, and transparency is king," said Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing and innovation officer at Campbell Soup's C-Fresh division.
Ginestro went on to say that the quality of the product is trumping brands these days. That aligned with observations shared by co-panelists Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint, and Becky Frankiewicz, who serves as SVP and general manager of Quaker Foods North America. Goldin stressed that shoppers today want transparency in all products they buy—whether its the latest electronic gadget or food stocked at their local grocery store. Frankiewicz, meanwhile, says food manufacturers need to be clear about what ingredients are in their products and how they are made.
"We want choice," Frankiewicz said.
That doesn't always mean that the foods made by big food conglomerates like Campbell Soup or PepsiCo always need to be 100% health focused. At times, consumers do want to enjoy sweet or savory treats. Those snacking patterns won't ever fully disappear. And as Kowitt pointed out throughout her questions, sometimes consumers say one thing and do another—meaning they say they want to eat more fresh produce and incorporate healthier foods in their diets, but still spend billions on snacks and beverages they know aren't good for them nutritionally.
"Healthy is a loaded term," concedes Ginestro. "The definition of what's healthy has evolved over time. Today, I believe it is about giving people access to real food. It's as simple as that."
Kowitt later asked if this healthy food movement is perhaps just a fad. These days, that trend explains why food startups that espouse their healthier foods and beverages are finding so much success scoring higher sales and increased retail distribution. On the other end of the spectrum, Big Food companies like PepsiCo and Campbell Soup are cleaning up their ingredient lists, launching new healthier products, and investing in food startups to participate in the trend away from big brands.
All three food executives said that this movement isn't a passing trend. And in some ways, the movement is just pushing large manufacturers to go back to business practices that are already part of their legacy.
Take the example of Quaker Foods—which is roughly 140 years old. At the beginning, the goal was to take fresh ingredients and find ways to package and distribute them to make it easier for consumers that didn't live near farms to consume those healthy foods. That's essentially the mission that is driving brands today: make healthy foods and distribute them so they are readily available on grocery shelves across the nation.
"It is a resurgence of who we were again," Frankiewicz said. "I don't think we are in a bubble, we are in a movement."