Naturally confused

Naturally confused

The Organic & Natural Health Association surveyed consumers on perceptions of the term “natural," discovering many are confused about the meaning.

Nobody in the natural products industry should be surprised that consumers are confused about "natural." Still, the results of a consumer survey released Monday by the Organic & Natural Health Association, detailing that level of confusion, could help determine how the claim gets defined.

While the industry may be aware that the word “natural” has lost much, if not all, of its meaning, 46 percent of consumers surveyed believe the term is set and policed by the government. Nearly half think natural products meet some standards of USDA Organic certified—free of pesticides and GMO ingredient—and those misperceptions are clearly driving purchasing decisions. They are buying “natural" possibly at the expense of organic. A full 60 percent of respondents indicated they use organic products less than once a week, while more than third said they use natural products once a day or more.

ONHA Executive Director Karen Howard says that confusion has helped define how the association will define natural. The level of confusion makes it clear there can be no half steps, she said. “It’s either natural or it’s not,” Howard said. “It just would not support levels of natural.”

How “natural" is defined will have momentous effects across the food and supplement markets, as the term is currently being defined by lawsuits. The only people with a good grasp of the definition at the moment are plaintiff’s attorneys, and really, all they know is what it’s not. Lawsuits and settlements threaten to chase the term off the label, impacting many companies that have tried to take the healthier-for-you concept in a healthier direction. Many a “natural” product that falls short of “organic” is likely better for consumers than many products on the shelves in conventional grocery stores.

ONHA’s definition, however, may be more stringent than organic.

According to an ONHA press release, all food products earning the ONHA’s natural status will be non-GMO and free of artificial preservative, colors, flavoring or sweeteners. Beef would be required to be both organic and grass fed. The association is targeting fall of 2016 for the launch of a certification program.

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