If I give your product a bad review, it's not because I don’t like you. I'm not trying to be a bully, or drum up controversy. My monthly roundup of new food product reviews and the bi-weekly web series First Bite aim to inform natural products retailers and health conscious consumers in their buying decisions.
The goal is to highlight products that go the distance to support overall health and wellness as well as suggest how products that fall short could be improved. Since manufacturers in the natural products industry hopefully develop new packaged foods with that goal in mind, I'm optimistic that companies that don't receive positive reviews will consider my feedback. Of course, that doesn't always happen. I frequently receive comments from readers and manufacturers suggesting that my reviews are unfair.
"I thought the point was to build each other up and support local small and growing businesses. Not to try to be witty for a blog post. Maybe you would reconsider writing this article. I usually look to see the new products and was shocked to have read your comments," wrote reader Brianne.
And another one.
"After reading your incredibly biased review of Baconnaise on NewHope360.com I now fully understand just what kind of partner New Hope Natural Media and Penton really are. Normally I would look past your negative remarks (I mean come on…who really reads your work anyway right?)," wrote Justin Esch who makes Baconnaise, artificially flavored bacon mayonnaise.
But for all the negative comments and personal attacks, I'm rewarded when a company uses my comments to make their products better. At Natural Products Expo East this year, the folks at New England Naturals told me they're taking another look at the sugar in their granola since watching my review. Though I'm just one voice, they realized that if I'm questioning an ingredient, other consumers and retailers are likely doing the same.
I will continue to include unfavorable reviews for exactly this reason. I want to hold manufacturers accountable for their products and tell them when we consumers want and deserve more.
That said, there are five criteria I look for when reviewing products. To ensure a stellar review, all new products must adhere to these standards.
- Use quality ingredients. You may call your product "natural" and source water from an aquifer in your backyard, but if it includes genetically modified ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, excessive sugar or salt, dyes, sulfites or hormones, it's not going to get top honors. I look for clean, minimally processed, whole food ingredients.
- Get certified. USDA Organic is the gold standard. Non-GMO Project Verified also earns kudos. If your product meets specific specialty diet criteria such as being gluten-free, vegan or raw, that's another great way to stand out.
- Be healthy. It's easy enough. I'm tired of receiving what I call natural product junk food. If you're using quality ingredients, it shouldn't be hard to also deliver protein, fiber and some vitamins and minerals.
- Taste good. Your product may be good for me and use certified organic ingredients, but if I have to force myself to eat it, I'm not going to buy it.
- Support a cause. Is your packaging compostable? Do you offset energy use by buying wind credits? In addition to providing a healthy, tasty, clean product, how does your company work to make the world just a little bit better?
Though the bar is high, it's not impossible to meet all five of these criteria. I'm impressed every month when a new product that does so lands on my desk. These foods make writing about the not-so-great products and facing criticism for doing so completely worth it.