Controversy has been building in recent years over the use of the word ‘natural’ on food packaging. For health conscious consumers – this term is often interpreted as an indicator of minimally processed, healthful ingredients. For food companies, the word just means dollar signs.
A 2009 survey found that while 35 percent of survey participants rated the label ‘organic’ as either important or very important to their purchasing decisions, ‘natural’ scored significantly higher, at 50 percent. This is particularly alarming, considering the word ‘organic’ actually has a long list of legal definitions, while the word ‘natural’ essentially has none.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to develop a legal definition for ‘natural’ back in the 1990′s, but backed away from the issue after facing what I can only assume was a lot of contradictory advice from health advocates and Big Food. But, that hasn’t stopped the food industry from using the label on everything from sugary drinks to highly processed snack foods. Why not? They know the word ‘natural’ misleads consumers into thinking they are making a better choice. Put simply, if you slap the word onto your product, you will sell more of it.
Just to prove how ridiculous the use of this word has become, non-profit, Organic Voice, took a satirical jab at the issue through this very humorous video:
While the FDA continues to refuse to act, consumer groups and other health advocates have been filing lawsuits to challenge the use of the word on products deemed anything but natural. Ben and Jerry’s, Nature Valley Granola Bars, Breyer’s Ice Cream, and Goldfish Crackers are just a few examples of brands targeted for using the label on products containing ingredients that do not exist in nature, such as high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, and synthetic cocoa powder.
Not only are these lawsuits costly, but they create a lot of bad press for the companies, causing many manufacturers to pull the ‘natural’ label just to avoid the trouble. While this might seem like great news, food companies aren’t ready to completely abandon the concept. There has to be another word that implies health and wholesomeness, but has even less legal meaning in regards to food.
That word is ‘Simply.’
Next time you visit the grocery store, just take a look. It’s everywhere — cookies, ice cream, chips — highly processed foods that would seldom be deemed as a healthy choice are now carrying this word on their label. According to reports from the Associated Press, PepsiCo has actually admitted to switching their line of ‘Simply Natural’ Frito-Lay chip products, to just ‘Simply.’ If the FDA hasn’t felt pressured enough to deal with the word ‘Natural’ they certainly won’t be touching any other vague, misleading labels anytime soon.