Notice anything different about Naked Juice, Lays or Goldfish? If you haven’t, you may want to start looking at the products a little closer. PepsiCo and Campbell Soup Company are quietly removing the “All Natural” label from their products.
Food companies have faced at least 100 lawsuits in the last two years over claims of false advertising, and it’s likely even more are in the works. Customers feel that if food has been processed or contains ingredients like high fructose corn syrup shouldn’t be labeled as natural.
Customers were also the ones who demanded “natural” products in the first place. A majority of consumers say they look for natural foods when they grocery shop, but only 47 percent view that claim as trustworthy.
Most of the problem comes from the fact no legal definition of the term natural exists. Companies are left up to their own devices to decide which of their products are natural and which ones are not. For PepsiCo, labeling foods as “All Natural” was a signal to customers about their efforts to provide healthier food options. In the specific case of Naked Juice, the label was supposed to represent the “bare-naked fruits” used to make the product.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no definition for natural, they do have a long-standing guideline. Under this policy, ”nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”
In September, a “food labeling modernization” bill was introduced in Congress. This bill would force the FDA to establish a standard nutritional labeling system. In the system new guidelines for the use of “natural” would be established. Promising as the new bill is, it is likely to take a long time before it is completely decided on in Congress.
The FDA has also said that “it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer a product of the earth.” This is probably true, as foods are labeled natural more as a way to convince customers to buy them than as an actual description. After all, food labeled “natural” brought in more than $40 billion in the United States alone last year. That’s second only to foods that claim to be low in fat.