Consumers Are Confused by the Word “Natural”
Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 7:00 am
It is easy to see why consumers are confused when presented with the word “natural” on a food label. What does that word actually mean? This is a question that the Food and Drug Administration is only beginning to consider. Right now, the word “natural” on a food label is extremely vague.
People want to bring home healthy food for their families to eat. This is especially true for families that are trying to lose weight together, or who have family members with food allergies or other health issues. We all want what’s best for our loved ones.
According to Consumer Reports, the percentage of people who regularly buy food labeled “natural” has increased from 59% in 2014 to 62% in 2015. At the same time, the study found that most people have no idea what they are paying for when it comes to natural labels on food packages.
Is a package of processed food, that says “natural”, more healthy than the apples and cucumbers in the produce section with no such label? Does the word “natural” on a food label mean that the food doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients, colors, or chemicals?
Does it mean the food was grown without pesticides? Does the work “natural” mean the food was tested and found to be “natural”? Does it mean that the factory the food was produced or packaged in was especially healthy? No one seems to know for certain – and yet, they continue to look for foods that say “natural”.
The confusion about the word “natural” is not the consumer’s fault. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently begun considering what the word “natural” on a food label should indicate. As a result, food manufacturers have been able to toss the word “natural” on almost any food without having to prove that the food is actually healthy for people to eat.
It has been discovered that people who are shopping for groceries tend to zero in on a “natural” claim. In general, people interpret the word “natural” to mean that the food is going to make them healthier, or that it will help their bodies function better. They want to believe that the package of food that says “natural” is somehow better for them then a competing brand that doesn’t say “natural”.
There is another big issue with using the word “natural” on food labels. Technically, from a food science perspective, it is very difficult to define a food as “natural”. Most foods have been processed in some way. Humans have been involved in the growing and breeding of foods for a very long time. It will be very difficult to come up with a meaning for the word “natural” that actually means something and that the consumer intuitively understands.