US consumers think natural is greener than organic, says survey

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Milk

American consumers believe that a ‘natural’ label claim is a better indicator of an eco-friendly product than ‘organic’, according to a new survey from advertising firm the Shelton Group.

Consumers are increasingly seeking out ‘greener’ products, and environmental sustainability has moved up among manufacturers’ priorities in recent years, as public awareness of the impact of their food on the environment has increased. But consumers have become more skeptical of manufacturers’ green credentials, accusing them of ‘greenwashing’, and are lacking the knowledge necessary to make the most meaningful choices at the grocery store.

The Shelton Group conducted a survey of 1,006 US consumers and found that nearly two-thirds said they were looking for greener products when shopping. But when asked ‘How do you know a product is green?’ the top response was ‘don’t know/not sure’, at 22 percent, followed by 20 percent who responded ‘says so on the package/label’.

Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group, said: “People are uncertain what to trust, so there's almost a ‘buyer beware’ attitude in the market.”

Organic perception

Despite well-defined certification standards, organic products are among those that consumers distrust; 31 percent of respondents said ‘100 percent natural’ is the most desirable eco-friendly product label claim, compared to 14 percent who chose ‘100 percent organic’.

Shelton said: “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.”

Meanwhile, the popularity of natural products has boomed, and it is now the leading label claim on new products, according to market research organization Mintel, featuring on 23 percent of new products launched globally in 2008.

One company taking advantage of the consumer perception of the natural claim is Horizon, America’s largest organic milk brand, which has announced its intention to launch its first ‘natural’ (but not organic) products – a yogurt aimed at toddlers, and single-serve milk targeted toward children. The dairy products are produced conventionally, but the company said they are “naturally produced without added growth hormones, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup.”

The decision to launch its first non-organic products was driven by demand for foods that are “easier on the pocketbook”,​ the company said.

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