News highlights, market trends, and original data analysis related to the U.S. retail food & beverage industry … by Jay Nargundkar
Despite the popularity of the “natural” food movement, what many consumers don’t know is that — unlike with “organic” — there is no strict U.S. government regulation of “natural” claims on food and beverage packaging. This has understandably led to consumer complaints over potentially misleading labeling. The latest shoe to drop was the recent announcement by Kashi, the health cereal/snacks brand owned by Kellogg, that they will remove “all natural” and “nothing artificial” claims from some of its products.
Reports the New York Times:
[Kellogg] agreed to drop the terms “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some products in its Kashi line as part of a settlement agreement ending a class-action lawsuit. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in 2011 in California, said the company used those terms on Kashi products that contained ingredients like pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed using hexane, a component of gasoline.
Such ingredients occur naturally — wheat germ and flaxseed are sources of pyridoxine hydrochloride, for example — but food companies, as well as makers of vitamins, often use synthetic versions to control costs and ensure consistent supplies.
Although there is no concern here related to food safety, manufacturers have been stepping away from “natural” claims recently to avoid backlash from close scrutiny of ingredient sources. Last November, the Wall Street Journal reported that “A growing number of food and drink companies…are quietly removing these claims from packages amid lawsuits challenging the “naturalness” of everything from potato chips to ice cream to granola bars.”
In short, consumers have become wary of “natural” claims:
At least 100 lawsuits have been filed in the past two years challenging the natural claims of Unilever PLC’s Ben & Jerry’s, Kellogg Co.’s Kashi, Beam Inc.’s Skinnygirl alcohol drinks and dozens of other brands.
Only 22.1% of food products and 34% of beverage products launched in the U.S. during the first half of 2013 claimed to be “natural,” down from 30.4% and 45.5%, respectively, in 2009 according to Datamonitor. Though many Americans still want natural products, Datamonitor says only 47% view the claims as trustworthy.
There is the clear risk that “natural” has already become an empty buzzword that has lost its cachet to attract a certain type of consumer. Manufacturers will have to find other ways to emphasize positive characteristics about their products — or further adjust their ingredient line to meet demanding specifications. (Kashi, for what it’s worth, has bigger problems.)