Flavor manufacturer FONA, recently released a 2018 “Natural Trend Insight Report” that found that many consumers do not believe in food companies that claim that their products are “all natural.” The study found that new product launches with “all-natural claims” have declined by 51 percent in last five years. According to FONA, this trend is occurring because the FDA has not clarified the official definition of “natural” when it comes to food products.
The flavor company’s recent consumer survey found that 69 percent of consumers trust the label “contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives” more than “natural” when it comes to purchasing food products. About 40 percent of these respondents said that they do not trust the “natural” label claim. The survey also found that 45 percent of consumers read product labels to confirm that they meet their own personal definitions of “natural.” The loosely used “natural” claim has resulted in a variety of product controversies in which major companies were involved in lawsuits.
In 2014, General Mills had settled a lawsuit over their use of the term “all-natural” in some of their Nature Valley products. The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, resulted in General Mills revoking the use of “natural” claims on any products that contain high-fructose corn syrup or maltodextrin.
General Mills was not the only major food producer to face litigation as a result of their own misleading “natural” label claims. In 2015, Diamond Foods Inc. had faced three class-action lawsuits for making false and misleading label claims on their Kettle brand products. The settlement of this lawsuit resulted in the company refunding all the purchased Kettle Brand products with “natural” label claims in the US between Jan. 3, 2010 and Feb. 24, 2015.
The FDA has still not defined the term “natural” for food manufacturers, leading them to label products with the term without confirming what ingredients actually qualify as “natural.” However, food manufacturers that produce products with “organic” claims are still popular in the food space. This is because products that receive the organic label certification are regulated by the USDA.
The FONA survey found that 52 percent of respondents trust products that have the “organic” certification more than those that don’t. About 79 percent of survey consumers were aware that organic claims are USDA regulated. These numbers are indicative of consumer needs for the official certification of food products.
In 2016, the FDA released an inquiry to the public to help the agency define “natural” in terms of food products. According to the report, the FDA took action on this after receiving three Citizen Petitions asking them to define “natural.” The agency has yet to confirm the official definition of the term.