- From candies to chicken, the ‘all natural’ claim is driving consumers to believe much more than what the claim might actually deliver. However, the lack of clear definition is catching up with the buzz word, and it has left many consumers feeling misled by food brands.
- Neither the Federal Trade Commission nor the US Food and Drug Administration has a strict definition for ‘all natural’. The FDA says, “from a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.” Regardless, there are plenty of companies continually taking advantage of the loose definition. The natural claim is interpreted at the shelf as a healthy food item – which is not necessarily the case.
- Consumer Reports found that two-thirds of Americans think that the word natural being on a label means it contains no artificial ingredients, pesticides of genetically engineered organisms. Further, 70% of consumers believe that ‘natural’ on a meat label means no growth hormones were used while feeding the animal, while 60% believe the animals did not receive antibiotics or other drugs in their food. However, the natural label does not address either of these concerns.
- The terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are not synonymous. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service loosely defines natural as a product that contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.
- Early in 2014, a federal judge in California acknowledged a $3.4 million lawsuit against the popular grocery store, Trader Joe’s. The company was accused of misleading their consumers by incorrectly advertising products as ‘all natural’ or “100% natural.” Products containing ascorbic acid (a synthetic version of vitamin C), sodium acid pyrophosphate (a synthetic leavening agent), vegetable monoglycerides and diglycerides, cocoa processed with alkali or xantham gum have come into question. Trader Joe’s could be held liable for misleading consumers about these ingredients that they deem as “all natural.” Similar stories can be shared about Whole Foods also.
- The ambiguity of a phrase such as ‘all natural’ can lead to varying interpretations across different groups of people. For instance, someone who is very knowledgeable in healthful eating, such as a dietician, will interpret the term much differently than someone who perhaps chooses their food options based on convenience and/or price. And while not the beacon of health it has been made out to be, for someone who is not as health focused, choosing the ‘all natural’ label may still be better than the food options that they’re currently choosing.
- Companies across a myriad of categories are guilty of abusing the ‘all natural’ claim. As consumers continue to be increasingly concerned about the origins of not just their food, but all products, producers and distributors will need to also become equally as concerned about the labeling practices their company has. Consumers will continue to become more educated about ingredient labels, and as such, companies will be under the microscopic lens of these increasingly skeptical consumers.
- Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are two companies that have felt the strength of the educated consumer. With a $3.4 million lawsuit in process, Trader Joe’s is a poignant example of the backlash that can occur from misleading their customers and at this point, they’re probably questioning whether it was worth it.