- Kellogg and PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division were sued over false advertising, according to Bakery and Snacks. A California couple claims the packaging on Pringles and Lay's Salt and Vinegar chips give the impression that consumers are buying an “all natural” snack instead of one that uses artificial flavors.
- The couple’s attorney said the labeling should be changed to show the product has artificial ingredients. They also want people who may have paid more for these products because they believed they had all natural ingredients to be reimbursed.
- “For our clients, having natural products is important to them, and if anything has artificial ingredients, it should be disclosed on the front or package of the bottle,” said Ronald Marron, one of the attorneys representing the couple, told the Battle Creek Enquirer. “If you have a choice to buy chips with real vinegar or malic acid, which would you prefer. Would you be willing to pay more for that vinegar?”
In 2015, the FDA began regulatory proceedings to define the term natural in food labeling. Three years later, that term remains undefined and lawsuits against manufacturers continue to crowd up the courts. This issue is compounded by the fact that food products in the U.S. labeled as natural make up roughly $40 billion in sales as consumers crave healthier ingredients.
Though corporations will likely be off the hook in most courts until a concrete definition is given, it's increasingly evident that some type of interim solution is necessary. According to Food Navigator, there were 20 food labeling class actions pending in federal court in 2008. That number rose to 425 by 2016. Cases that focused specifically on natural claims jumped by 22% in 2017 from the prior year. In just the past year, everyone from General Mills' Nature Valley bars to Dr Pepper Snapple's Mott's apple sauce have been sued for a natural claim they made on their packaging.
The issue is a bit of a catch-22. Consumers want healthier food and manufacturers are responding with natural claims. But at what cost? Shoppers are more interested in what ingredients are in the products they buy, as evidenced by the surge of the global clean label ingredients market. The segment is expected to reach $47.1 billion by 2022, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.6%.
With consumers being judicious about the ingredients in their food, they are starting to look past the natural labels on a package to discover things like sodium diacetate and malic acid, which is what mimics the natural flavor found in salt and vinegar chips. The clean label trend provides a major advantage for products that are able to strip down their ingredients to the basics. For those brands that truly are all natural, they would be wise to do all they can to communicate that fact to their shoppers on the packaging, through advertising and on social media.
But these lawsuits could be a call to major CPG companies that they have to be transparent about what is really in their product, and a natural label claim is going to be closely checked by shoppers to ensure it is accurate.
In addition to the rising demand for simpler, healthier ingredients, more consumers want transparency. A recent study from Response Media found 98% of shoppers want transparency in their packaged food. If a potato chip manufacturer can’t remove unnatural-sounding ingredients from its product without compromising taste, it would be wise to drop the natural claim altogether. Some corporations, according to Time, have already done so. Shoppers don’t want to feel like they’re being lied to or even overpromised. In a time when consumers have an abundance of information at their fingertips, the best strategy is full transparency.