WhiteWave Foods, the Dean Foods division that owns the Horizon Dairy and Silk brands, ruffled feathers in the organic industry last year when it launched a natural version of its Silk soymilk and the first Horizon products that are not certified organic. As Nutrition Business Journal explores in its recently published 2010 Organic issue, some organic advocates fear that the moves will further confuse consumers about the differences that separate organic and natural products and could be the start of other large organic brands moving away from organic certification.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit WhiteWave Foods’ headquarters in Broomfield, Colorado, with a group of other New Hope people. During the meeting, Blaine McPeak, WhiteWave’s new president, and Tyler Holm, commercial director for the Horizon brand, talked about the company’s decision to dabble in natural. Both McPeak and Holm emphasized that the new products are just a test—one that the company embarked on in an effort to provide more affordable, healthy products to those consumers who cannot afford the price premium that often accompanies certified organic products. The organic dairy category was particularly hard hit last year by soaring prices at a time when fewer consumers could pay them.
As McPeak noted, 99% of Horizon’s revenues were generated from the sale of certified organic products in 2009. Furthermore, WhiteWave remains committed to organic certification, he added, and will continue to devote resources to helping educate consumers about the value of organic agriculture.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) strictly regulates the organic food industry through its National Organic Program (NOP), but the term natural is far less defined. Since 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has vaguely described it to mean “nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in or has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.” In essence, each manufacturer is able to define what natural means and abide by its own definition.
Now that Horizon offers several natural products, Holm said the company is using its Website and other outreach tools to educate consumers about what the natural label on its Little Blends yogurt and Milk Breakers single-serving milk products means. For Horizon, Holm said the natural label indicates that the product was produced without the use of artificial flavors, preservatives, colors and sweeteners, including no high fructose corn syrup, and are made using milk from cows not given artificial growth hormones (rbST).
According to NBJ estimates, natural came out slightly ahead over organic from a sales growth perspective in 2009. U.S. consumer sales of natural foods and beverages grew 6% to $13.6 billion, while organic food and beverage sales increased 5% to $22.3 billion.
NBJ is interested in your thoughts on this issue. Should more organic companies begin offering less-expensive natural products in an effort to reach a broader consumer base? Do such moves threaten organic's foundation and future? What should be done to ease consumer confusion over organic vs. natural?
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