Last March, I attended Natural Products Expo West, the largest natural products trade show in the country. At a marketing seminar, it was stated that for many consumers the terms ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ were basically interchangeable. I was distressed by this and made a decision to better educate our customers about the foods you purchase. Particularly, I want to empower you to make informed decisions about the foods you purchase.
In a recent survey conducted by the Shelton Group, an advertising and research firm that focuses on marketing green products, 1,013 Americans were asked what was the best description to read on a food label. 25% said they preferred to see ‘100% Natural’ or ‘All Natural’, 24% preferred ‘USDA Certified Organic’ or ‘100% Organic’. Suzanne Shelton commented: “Many consumers do not understand green terminology. They prefer the word ‘Natural’ over the term ‘Organic’ thinking organic is more of an unregulated marketing buzzword that means the product is more expensive. In reality, the opposite is true: ‘Natural’ is the unregulated word. ‘Organic Foods’ must meet government standards to be certified as such.”
There are many factors woven into the concept of what ‘Natural Foods’ means. There is a broad range in the quality of products considered ‘Natural Foods’ offered on the market today. At a minimum, a ‘Natural Food’ should have no artificial (synthetic) preservatives, colors or ingredients. The best ‘Natural Food’ will also be certified organic, grown with the best sustainable practices, have the best health attributes, and the best socially responsible attributes.
In the natural foods industry there is a general understanding of what constitutes a ‘Natural Food’, but there is no official government definition. There is minimal government oversight of the use of the term ‘Natural’ on food products. One exception: the USDA specifies that meat and poultry labeled ‘Natural’ must contain no artificial ingredient or added color and be minimally processed.
The situation is very different for what constitutes an ‘Organic Food’. The USDA has made a very clear system of the standards ‘Organic Foods’ must meet, a certification process that must be followed, and a clear labeling program for these products. ‘Organic Foods’ must be produced without antibiotics, hormones, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage sludge-based fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Organic farmers are required to adhere to sustainable farming practices, including promoting biodiversity and soil and water conservation practices. They must follow rules about livestock having access to the outdoors, eating only organic feed and being given no antibiotics or growth hormones. The government prosecutes companies who make false claims about their product being ‘Organic’.
Consumers are increasingly buying healthy and green products. In 2008, 23% of new food and beverage products offered globally were labeled ‘Natural’. Even with the recession in recent years this trend is staying strong. Many manufacturers, wanting to increase their market share, are climbing onto the ‘Natural’ bandwagon. But sometimes they do not play fair. They exploit consumers’ willingness to pay up to 20% more for ‘Natural’ or ‘Green’ products without delivering the benefit. Greenwashing is the art of labeling foods in a misleading way so the average person thinks a product is healthy, green or eco friendly when in fact it really isn’t. Greenwashing has added to the confusion and erosion of the terms ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’.
Here are a few examples of greenwashing. In 2007, 7- Up started being labeled as ‘All Natural’. After being threatened with a lawsuit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for making misleading claims, Cadbury-Schweppes dropped the ‘All Natural’ claim and focused on having ‘Natural’ flavors. CSPI challenged them for labeling their product that contained high fructose corn syrup as ‘All Natural’. Last year, Ben and Jerry’s took the ‘All Natural’ label off of some of its ice cream and yogurt products containing alkalized cocoa, corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil. This action was taken after a threatened lawsuit by CSPI. Up until 2009 Silk Soy Milk was made with organic soy beans. Then Dean Foods switched from organic to non-organic soybeans (which are most often grown with pesticides and/or using genetically-modified seeds). Dean Foods kept the same product labeling and price for their Silk soymilk, only switching the word ‘Organic’ to ‘Natural’ on the packaging. The result was a transition that consumers and retailers were both unaware of, and many kept buying the product under the impression that is was organic. Here at LifeSource, when we figured out the change made to Silk, we gave the product less favorable placement with informative signs. This lead to lower sales and we eventually dropped most of their products.
An issue that causes me a lot of concern is the increasing amount of genetically modified foods (GMOs) in our food supply. Currently, only a few crops are mostly GMO but they are pervasive in our food supply and it is now estimated that 80% of packaged food in the USA contains GMOs. Here are the main US crops that are GMO: soy beans 91%, sugar beets 90%, canola, 90%, corn 85%, cotton (seed oil) 71%, Hawaiian papayas 50%. I am worried about the long term impact of GMOs on our health and on the environment. Look for the non-GMO label on more and more products.
I hope someday all the food we eat is ‘Organic Food’. I believe a healthy diet of ‘Organic Foods’ represents the best food choices available to us. It is also a sustainable form of agriculture that will allow us to continue farming for generations to come. With the high standards set by the National Organic Program, NOP, we can count on foods labeled as ‘Organic’ to be what they should be. Eating ‘Organic Foods’ does not guarantee a healthy diet—we still need to make the proper food choices daily to take the best care of ourselves. After all, there is such a thing as too many organic cookies and organic potato chips!
Here at LifeSource Natural Foods, we see ourselves as gatekeepers, only letting high quality ‘Natural Foods’ occupy our shelves. It is our job to read the labels carefully, know the ins and outs of the many food attribute issues, know the preservatives listed, know the manufacturers, know the products and provide a selection of products you can trust as high quality ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ foods. On our shelves you will find a range of quality of the foods, supplements and other products we sell— from good, to better, to best. We offer this range because we want to give you price options as well as offering an abundant selection. Our staff wants to help you understand your choices and make the best decisions, so please ask them all your questions. We pride ourselves on the high standards we have for our products. We like to think you can leave the label reading to us—and just enjoy shopping for delicious and healthy foods.