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Skepticism about ‘natural’ products continues, finds survey

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 22-Dec-2010

Consumers on the lookout for eco-friendly claims are skeptical about the term ‘natural’, and two-thirds would favor a uniform standard to certify natural claims, according to a new survey.

The poll, from natural and organic marketing firm Mango Sprouts Marketing, asked 1,000 natural product consumers about their organic shopping habits in an effort to get an idea of upcoming trends for the sector in 2011.

Currently, although manufacturers of organic foods and beverages must adhere to strict standards in order to be allowed to use the term, the Food and Drug Administration has declined to define the word ‘natural’. Nevertheless, its use on food packaging is rapidly increasing as consumers are seeking products that are free from artificial additives.

The market research found that one in three consumers surveyed (34 percent) were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident in natural labeling, while two in three (65 percent) said they would like to see the term certified, for both processes and ingredients. Another 25 percent of those surveyed said they were ‘somewhat interested’ in natural certification.

However, the way in which a certification scheme would be monitored was also important to those polled. A third (33 percent) said they would favor natural labeling certification by an independent non-profit organization and/or a government standard. Fewer than one in four supported an industry-sponsored standard (23 percent), while 18 percent said they would prefer retailer certification, the research found.

The findings are in line with the results of other market research in this area, which has suggested that many consumers are confused about the precise definition of ‘natural’. A survey conducted last year by market research organization the Shelton Group, for example, found that more consumers favored natural product claims (31 percent) over organic claims (14 percent) as evidence of a product’s eco-credentials, despite the strict regulation of the term ‘organic’ and none for ‘natural’.

‘Natural’ was the number one claim on new product packaging last year, appearing on 23 percent of newly launched food and beverage products, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.

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