When food products use the word "natural," they are entering a complicated and contentious space. The problem emerges after a little consideration: How much can any packaged food claim to be from nature? What kinds of processes are allowed or prohibited for brands that want to use this word, and is there really a strong consumer appeal?
"The amount of legal action having to do with natural claims should serve as a warning beacon."
The further business owners dig into the complexities of "natural" labeling, the more convinced they may become to use some other, less contentious term. If nothing else, the sheer amount of legal action having to do with claims of natural ingredients or preparation methods should serve as a warning beacon.
Legal Back and Forth
The Washington Legal Federation's Glenn Lammi recently explained, in an article for Forbes, a significant potion of all food labeling lawsuits have to do with the terms "natural" and "all-natural." A recent example of this trend came from a legal battle between yogurt producer Dannon and a group of purchasers who allege that genetically modified grain fed to cows who produced milk for the yogurt erases the brand's claim to be all natural.
The particular case fell apart because of a lack of specificity on the plaintiff's part, and due to the fact that a key piece of evidence, a release explaining that Dannon would soon switch to GMO feed, suggested that the company didn't expect its customers to believe the items are don't contain GMOs. Lammi noted that the Food and Drug administration is currently seeking guidance on a revised definition of "natural," which may bring more clarity to such cases.
Consumers Have Assumptions
The demand for natural products may be based on an understanding gap between what the word signifies in legal terms and the images it evokes. Food Dive reported that recent research has shown people make assumptions about traditional growing practices and a lack of preservatives. These feelings make them willing to pay a premium for items that bear "natural" labeling in product categories such as meat. However, it remains an open question as to whether it's worthwhile to use the word: With a fundamental misunderstanding at play, can more lawsuits be far?
When companies are deciding which claims to place on their food labels, they should be aware of the legal rules surrounding each word, the possibility of a misunderstanding and the chances that definitions may change. An in-house labeling system could help businesses change quickly and efficiently when a new strategy is needed. Check out printers at Argon Technology's U.S. site or Canadian page.