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As consumers take a more active role in understanding the types of ingredients that make up their food products, they're urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to further define terms such as "natural" and "all natural" on food labels, which as they stand have vague definitions.
According to The NPD Group, these terms convey a sense of "wholesomeness, without additives, chemicals and preservatives" – in other words, anything manmade. Yet this isn't always the case, as foods rich in high-fructose corn syrup or GMOs, for example, may still be labeled "natural," per an FDA-issued guidance on labeling in the 1990s.
Due to growing demand, the FDA announced in mid-November it was seeking public comments on the use of the term “natural” in food labeling, and consumers followed suit.
There is emerging evidence that consumers are looking for foods to be in their pure form, NPD found, as more than 30 percent of consumers are cautious about serving foods with preservatives compared to 24 percent 10 years ago, and the trend for additives follows the same progression.
Additionally, 39 percent of Americans consume foods or beverages with an “all natural” or “natural ingredients” special label in an average week, and products with natural, organic, or whole grain claims are more likely to be consumed in an average week than those with a light/low-calorie label, pointing toward a shifting perception of health.
“Marketers would be wise to initiate a dialogue with consumers to assuage concerns about particular ingredients,” says Darren Seifer, NPD analyst. “Education about how specific products and ingredients can fit into consumers’ daily lives also will go a long way in clearing up possible confusion about ‘natural’ foods messaging.”