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Extent of confusion about “natural” continues as trade group works to define the term

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Natural health association Genetically modified organism Organic food

The term “natural” is an extremely effective marketing claim that taps into one of the hottest current trends in food and beverage, but because it is not defined, it leaves consumers confused and companies vulnerable to false claims allegations. 

The Organic & Natural Health Association wants to change that by formally defining natural and creating a certification program for the term.

“One of the things we have become acutely aware of over the last few years is the proliferation of natural products in the marketplace seemingly to coincide with the class action lawsuits that are being filed,”​ which alleged false advertising, said Karen Howard, CEO and executive director of Organic & Natural.

These lawsuits reflect consumer confusion about what natural means and what they are paying for when they buy products making the claim, she said.

The extent of this confusion was revealed in a recent survey of 1,005 US consumers conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute for Organic & Natural.

The survey found two-thirds of respondents thought natural meant free of synthetic additives and half though the term stood for products that also were free of synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms – which are attributes of organic.

Indeed, a third of the respondents thought that natural and organic were the same and 46% though that natural, like organic, is regulated, when it is not.

An evolving definition

Recognizing the need for a standard definition and a way to clear misconceptions about natural, the Natural and Organic Health Association is undergoing a thorough process to define the term.

So far, the association has determined that natural must be 95% approved natural ingredients with the remaining 5% coming from a list of approved non-natural ingredients, such as synthetic letter vitamins, excluding D and E, Howard said.

The association’s definition also means “no GMO allowed, no nano-particles or technology and no cloning,”​ Howard said.

In addition, natural will go beyond organic for grass fed beef, requiring cattle to be pasture-fed and prohibiting feeding cattle corn, which Howard says is not their natural diet. That said, organic standards are sufficient for produce to meet the definition of natural.

The association is still finalizing the definition of natural for eggs, dairy and poultry, she said.  

Next steps

Simply defining natural is not sufficient, Howard said. She explained the association also will create a formal certification seal for products that meet the definition and a “sophisticated consumer education campaign, so that when we create a seal there is inherent value that millions of customers already understand and acknowledge.”

To qualify for the seal, companies will need to meet an ongoing compliance program that the association hopes to finalize in the first quarter of 2016, Howard said.

Ultimately, she concluded, the standard, compliance program and seal should assure consumers they are getting what they paid for and protect companies from false claims allegations and lawsuits.

Related topics Markets Going non-GMO Product claims

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