natural claims confusing to consumers

For all the confusion about diet and health in America, it turns out consumers are a lot smarter than they may seem — at least when it comes to claims of natural versus organic, according to a recent survey.

Pavone, a Harrisburg, PA marketing agency researched the purchasing decisions of more than 350 adults, primarily how they make the distinction between products labeled organic and all-natural, with the majority of participants recognizing organic to be the healthier choice.

Because of the USDA’s National Organic Program (in effect since 2002), consumers have been educated on the benefits of eating certified organically grown or raised products — mainly due to the absence of antibiotics, pesticides, hormones and other contaminants, as well as the benefits to the air, water and soil as a result of cleaner farming methods. Lists such as “the dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” have also shed light on the most heavily sprayed or treated conventional crops and when it’s best to opt for organic.  But “natural,” it seems, has become a bit of a trouble spot for consumers.

The word “natural” as the late comedian George Carlin said really refers to everything on the planet, as it all comes — in one form or another — from nature.  And so therein also is the dilemma for consumers, it appears. As they become more intelligent about organic versus conventional, the skepticism over the vagueness of natural is growing. Unregulated and a daunting task to do so, natural has come to mean “nothing artificial” as in chemically produced colors, flavors or additives, but it’s not always the case. Manufacturers bear the onus to educate and qualify any statements claiming their products to be natural and when left to marketing departments, natural can be as loosely defined as Carlin’s observation.

Does this mean regulations are ahead for the term natural? The organic certification program seems to have come at precisely the right time and grown accordingly with the health food industry’s expansion, but to insert natural regulations now could be somewhat of a logistical nightmare. Still, in a recent study conducted by Mango Sprouts Marketing, 65 percent of participants said they would like to see the term natural certified.

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Photo: Cabel courtesy of Creative Commons