- 62% of consumers regularly purchased foods and beverages labeled "natural" in 2015, up from 59% in 2014, but the majority of consumers don't actually know what that "natural" label means, according to a recent study from Consumer Reports.
- At least 60% of consumers think that a packaged or processed food is considered natural if it is non-GMO and doesn't contain artificial ingredients or colors, chemicals, or pesticides, and 45% believe the term "natural" is verified. However, neither of these commonly held beliefs are accurate.
- The disconnect happens because "natural" is not regulated by the federal government and therefore is a loose-fitting term that companies use with different meanings.
Manufacturers have increasingly labeled their products as "natural" to appeal to consumers' desire for healthier, less processed foods with clean labels and simpler ingredients lists. The "natural" label has led to lawsuits filed against companies like Dole and General Mills when consumers and public health groups have discovered ingredients they don't feel should be included under a "natural" label.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association believes an official, legal definition for "natural" would benefit food manufacturers by clearing up confusion for both companies and consumers. Karen Duester, president and founder of Food Consulting Company, told Food Dive earlier this month that a definition could "level the playing field" by preventing companies from getting away with incorrectly using the "natural" label and could decrease the litigation companies have increasingly faced.
In November, the FDA requested comments on a "natural" definition and has already fielded thousands of comments. The submission period has been extended from Feb. 10 to May 10 per the request of the Natural Products Association. This is the first time the FDA has approached a definition for the term "natural" since 1993.