So it turns out, people have no idea what the word “natural” means. In fact, they pretty much assume it means “organic.”
That’s according to a new study from the Organic & Natural Health Association, “Consumer Insights on Organic and Natural”
The study found that 46 percent of consumers surveyed believe that the U.S. government regulates the term “natural.” (They don’t).
And, they also found that 1 in 3 consumers do not make a quality distinction between the terms “natural” and “organic” and/or government regulation for products with such labels. (There’s actually a huge difference).
The study also found that, while three-fourths of consumers believe that organic foods must be at least 95 percent free from synthetic additives, almost two-thirds of consumers believe “natural” foods are held to the same standard. (They aren’t).
And, about half of the consumers surveyed believe that “natural” means the product is free of synthetic pesticides and are non-GMO. (It doesn’t).
The findings are one part depressing, and one part completely expected.
As a consumer, I have to say, I understand all the confusion. I mean, if something is labeled “natural,” it’s only “natural” to assume it’s been held to some sort of standard.
And it’s not like manufacturers could follow specific guidelines when labeling things as “natural” even they wanted to, because those guidelines don’t exist.
But all this confusion has real consequences for the industry.
For example, the study shows that one of the reasons the organic industry isn’t growing more is that consumers see the higher prices for organic food compared to natural foods, and opt for the cheaper option. That’s especially true among people who buy a lot of natural and organic food.
Plus, if everyone is going around using the word “natural,” it really diminishes its effectiveness.
“Manufacturers producing natural products need to continue to clarify the meaning of natural so the term does not become diluted and lose significance among consumers,” the association says.
So what is the solution to all this? Well as a consumer, I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t mind a little government regulation here.
I know, I know. I say the words “government regulation” and everyone freaks out. But if regulation is what it takes to give the word “natural” back some of its power, than maybe it would be a good thing for manufacturers.
But hey, I’m cool, I’m down with what’s hip among food manufacturers. I get that some people get worried whenever the government starts to get involved. So that brings me to the next best thing — a voluntary set of regulations for the industry.
In fact, that’s exactly what Organic & Natural’s response to all this has been — they want to develop a voluntary regulatory compliance and certification program for the term “natural.” And they’re planning to release it during the first half of 2016, in conjunction with a consumer education campaign supporting transparency of product purchases.
It sounds like a great place to start. And it’s something the confectionery should get behind. It nothing else it will help consumers understand why those “natural” gummies you’re selling are worth a little more money, and quite possibly a “natural” fit for their family.