March 6, 2018

What Exactly Does Natural Mean?

Since we seem to be on a ‘labeling’ kick thus far this week, this is your reading assignment for the day. The New York Times wrote an incredible article about how the word ‘natural’ is used in the food industry. If you don’t already know, ‘natural’ doesn’t actually have a legal definition and in an era where consumers are more and more focused on natural products and willing to pay more for them, there is now increased scrutiny of those products (and lawsuits against products that consumers feel don’t meet the generally-understood definition of natural). It’s a longish article but highly worth your time.

One of the main things that I, as a food producer took away from it, is that consumers are incredibly wary of certain food marketing terms such as ‘natural’ because consumers have been burned by them in the past. Words like ‘natural’ and ‘artisan’ have been co-opted by large brands and at some point or another consumers start to see through this. Which is one reason you, as a smaller brand, need to be careful about hanging all of your marketing messaging around an undefined term. Even if you are creating a product in a manner that most consumers would argue fits the public definition of the word, consumers may be skeptical or leery of your product because of your choice of words.

It will be interesting to see if, like in yesterday’s article about a legal definition for the words ‘meat’ and ‘beef,’ if legal definitions arise for ‘natural’ as well.

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