Two-thirds of shoppers currently always or frequently look for grocery products, including fresh chicken, with “all natural claims,” and 65% find such labeling to be extremely or very influential in their purchase decision, according to a study conducted by Russell Research and released Jan. 6 by TLC, a nationwide coalition of “truly” natural chicken producers and grassroots citizens.
TLC fears that this focus on “natural” claims could blind some shoppers to the presence of added water, broth or salt- and carrageenan-solutions, currently added to about 25% of all ready-to-cook poultry products – many of which bare the claim.
Indeed, the study of 1,039 adults who buy fresh chicken at least twice a month found nearly half of respondents did not expect products labeled as “all natural” to have additives. One-third of these shoppers added they would not likely buy a brand of fresh chicken labeled as all natural again if they discovered it contained additives, such as water, salt, carrageenan and broth.
While manufacturers are required to disclose additives, including such solutions, clearly on packages, TLC says the disclaimers often are in smaller font than the “natural” claims. It also noted only one-fifth of shoppers in the study always read the fine print – increasing the risk that natural chicken shoppers would unwittingly buy poultry labeled as natural without realizing a solution was added.
Added solutions cost Americans, TLC claims
TLC also argues the addition of solutions to fresh poultry is costing Americans more money and threatens their health.
It explains that adding these solutions increases the weight of fresh chicken, which usually is priced per pound. It claims another survey found consumers spent almost $2 billion annually on the added weight for solutions in fresh poultry.
As for health, the solutions can increase sodium to as much as 400 mg per serving compared to 60 mg in chicken without solution. The higher levels of sodium become more important in light of the recently released 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which advocate Americans significantly reduce their sodium intake.
In light of these findings, TLC believes USDA should allow only 100% natural chicken, without additives and solutions, to be labeled as all natural.
Consumer trust in natural is eroding
The use of natural by fresh chicken manufacturers that also use solution likely further is eroding consumers dwindling trust in the claim, the study findings suggest. It found only 44% of consumers currently trust “natural” labels on food products.
However, chicken manufacturers that do not add solutions can increase their “natural” claims’ credibility with consumers and better standout on store shelves by having their products and claims third-party-certified, the study suggest.
It found 77% of consumers agreed third-party verification of label claims would increase their level of trust.
This finding also adds gravitas to the Organic & Natural Health Association’s ongoing efforts to define natural and create a certification program. It also underscores the import of FDA’s recent request to help define the term.