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The unregulated word “natural” may not be unregulated for long. The Food and Drug Administration has never formally defined the word but is now considering guidelines for using “natural.”
The agency reports that the “changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and response to consumers who have requested that the FDA explore the use of the term ‘natural,’ are two reasons to give 'natural' another look."
But while the FDA parses this one out, restaurants and retailers have already moved on to more descriptive and specific terms. The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based research firm, finds that at least 6 in 10 consumers look for “fresh,” “clean,” “real” and “pesticide-free,” the top four descriptors that influence purchase of food or beverage, according to Hartman’s Organic & Natural 2014 Report. “Natural” comes in fifth, and the Hartman Group research indicates that the more descriptive the term, the better. Descriptors that speak to “less processing and more to the natural aspects of food” will resonate most.
Sarah Schmansky, director retail program, Nielsen Perishables Group, notes that the perimeter section is where “consumers connect fresh with health.” She encourages retailers to leverage that fresh halo effect around prepared foods, where “posting ingredient labels touting health and wellness and product freshness” will catch shoppers’ eyes.
For consumers craving fresh, hearty family meals, try signs that read, “Made in-store today,” Schmansky suggests.
- Replacing “natural” with higher-impact words like “local” and “clean”
- Menu boards and signs to keep daily–and even hourly–messages fresh
- Offering specifics about what is not in your prepared food: pesticide-free, GMO-free, antibiotic-free