So what’s natural and what’s not?

by | Feb 28, 2017 | Blog

Today’s conscious consumer is confused. With so many claims of “natural” and no enforceable food standards regulating the use of the term, “natural ”, how do consumers know what’s natural and what’s not?

Pushing against the system

The 1960s counterculture inspired the “natural” movement. This also included the “organic” movement, and since then both of these categories have had a major upsurge into the current marketplace.
The natural market movement culture which was stirred up in the 1960’s was prompted by:
• People’s disappointment with the conventional medical and food culture.
• An increasing distrust in the quality of food sold in the supermarket system.
• A focus on one’s own self-importance as a result of the baby boomers’ influence

The 60’s anti-establishment movement rallied hard against artificially manufactured foods, medications, and industrial farming and pressed for more natural and organically produced food and medicine.

From humble beginnings

The overwhelming responses of both visitors, and more importantly investors, at the “Natural Products” Expo’s taking place in Colorado, USA in the late 1990s, emphatically demonstrated that the average man/woman was beginning to have concerns about the dangers of conventional medicine, factory agriculture and inorganically grown foods. Since then, there has been a massive surge of consumers embracing and switching from conventional medicine and mechanized farm food products into a more natural medicine and into healthier grown organic foods.

Over the last quarter century, the natural medicines, organically produced foods and “improve human health movement” has, since its humble beginnings, grown into a number of massive growth categories, especially food.

Consumers have grown accustomed to seeking out alternative medicines and “natural/organic” foods because these natural alternatives tend align more with their values and beliefs, and desire to lead a more “natural” life.

Natural/Organic Food Category

The Natural/Organic movement, which was originally aimed at initiating wider social change, has developed into a major food product category. The natural food marketplace continues on its upward growth trajectory as every day large number of consumers are departing from conventional drugs and processed foods or agricultural food, manufactured with chemicals into more natural alternatives including organic foods and alternative medicines. As a result, more and more manufacture’s are jumping on the natural foods band-wagon. The problem is the loose definitions of what’s natural and what’s not.

Normalization of the natural category – What’s natural and what’s not?

The massive growth and impact of the “natural/organic trend on our lives has transformed a small niche market into a double-digit multi billion growth sector. One recent survey found that nearly 60% of people said they look for the term “natural” on food labels when they shop.

The problem is that now the consumer is confused. In today’s cluttered market place, whilst natural/alternative medicines and fresh natural/organic food have become widely accepted and in many markets, preferred, with so many claims of “natural” and no enforceable food standards regulating the use of the term, “natural ”, how do they know what’s truly really natural and what isn’t?

Multiple guidelines, multiple standards

So whilst the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) have all produced manufacturer’s guidelines, unfortunately these guidelines were all created separately, all with varying requirements. As a result of the general lack of consensus in these “natural” guidelines, the consumer is left only reliant the Trade Practices Act 1974 to keep the food manufacturers in check from misleading or deceiving consumers.

Natural’s too difficult to define

“While the claim ‘organic’ is clearly defined and highly regulated by several non-government organisations, the term ‘natural’ is less clearly defined and is framed differently in different countries’ regulations (Bostrom & Klintman 2003).”

The term “natural” has proved difficult to define because from a food science perspective, “natural” is difficult because the food has, in the vast majority of cases, been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. In other words, once the food has been processed and is no longer simply a product of the earth, this is where there is a lack of defined standards. Which all goes to mean that we still don’t know what’s natural and what’s not! So are there any standards that the consumer can count on?

The FSANZ sets standards for information on food labels.

The Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Authority uses ingredient labeling as the main means of providing information to help consumers make better food choices. Detailed food labels are designed to help protect public health and safety by displaying information such as use by dates, ingredients, certain allergens, instructions for storage and preparation, and advisory and warning statements.

Australian Certified Organic Standard

In 2014 the Australian Organic Market Report revealed that, back then, Australia’s organic industry was worth $1.72 billion. This they reported was up by 35% since 2012 and was growing by over 15% each year. This would make the Australian market well in excess of 2 billion dollars today.

Whilst there is no “standard” for natural, the Australian Certified Organic Standard is the organic industry policeman that holds the industry to strict standards in the production and sale of organic foods. The ACO produce guides, which are reviewed every three years, that inform consumers about how to purchase 100% honest organic products and what certified organic really means.

The Australian Certified Organic Standard applies to food and drink, cosmetic, fiber, farmers, processors, retailers and manufacturers of certified organic ingredients. The ACO Standard is upheld by regular and random annual audits of those companies that have been certified  by the ACO.

So for right now without one true “policing authority” for natural, consumers are going to still have to do their own research and buy based on what they understand the labels to read.

At Jam&Co we specialist in organic and natural look and feel packaging design.