FD Buyer: What Is ‘Natural,’ Anyway?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary
of a current article from Frozen & Dairy Buyer magazine.
last, a definition for "natural" products may be coming.
No, not from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but from the Natural Products
Association in Washington.
The association already has certification programs
in place for natural personal care and home care products and hopes to introduce
a certification program for natural foods later this year, according to scientific
and regulatory affairs manager Cara Welch, Ph.D. "It’s a big project
because standards will vary by category," she explains. "But we
hope to have the first group out this year."
One reason organic growth
is expected to resume is that it’s clearly
defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture while natural is not. So, while
organic buyers can rest assured that products certified by the USDA meet certain
criteria, buyers of natural products can’t always be sure what they’re
getting. Consequently, the term seems to have lost some of its appeal.
Sterl, president of Rustic Crust, Pittsfield, N.H., notes that focus groups
recently told his company that they believe large manufacturers in particular
can find ways to call their products all-natural even when they aren’t.
As a result, consumers said they prefer products labeled "absolutely
no chemicals" or "free of preservatives" because those attributes
in particular coincide with their definition of natural.
Although he hates
the idea of more government involvement because it could make things more difficult
for small companies already doing natural right, Mr. Sterl says a legal definition
of the term might make shopping a little easier for consumers, especially those
not well-educated about natural foods.
But then again, "Consumers have
become savvier and more aware of ingredients" that
have no place in a natural product, said Laura Trust, owner and president of
SJB Bagel Makers of Boston, maker of the all-natural frozen brand, Finagle
a Bagel. "Manufacturers can include whatever callouts they like on their
products," she adds, but it’s up to consumers to determine whether
or not they’re telling the whole truth — a challenge she believes
they’re up to.
Other manufacturers think third-party certification is
the way to go because it allows consumers to easily identify products whose
attributes match up with what they’re looking for in a natural food.
For example, said Chris Testa, president of Blue Marble Brands, Providence,
R.I., more than 500 of his company’s
SKUs are enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, which carefully scrutinizes a product’s
ingredients before offering its stamp of approval.
"It’s often done in conjunction with an all-natural or organic
label to remove any ambiguity that exists around either term, but particularly
explains. "Whenever you can get that assurance from a third party, it
has the same effect as the USDA organic logo."
Discussion Questions: How should definitions around “natural” foods be resolved? Are consumers becoming savvy enough to gauge ’natural’ through their own understanding of ingredients?