Are shoppers in supermarkets around the country as confused about certain label claims as they are in your store? You bet they are! In a recent RDBA quick poll, it was revealed that forty three percent of retail dietitians think that consumers are misled by food claims nearly half the time. Meanwhile, 46 percent of retail RDs think shoppers are almost always, or usually misled. Clearly, more often than not, RDs think food labels are not clear to consumers.
So what label claims are most misleading? Retail RDs cited natural, multigrain, no sugar added, zero trans fats, and free range as the most misleading for their shoppers.
When asked to pick the most misleading claim, “natural” was the clear winner. And the natural claim isn’t just confusing to shoppers but to food marketers and government regulatory authorities as well. FoodNavigator-USA would agree, “regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have not had a good stab at defining ‘natural’ either. And into this vacuum, have stepped lawyers - a lot of them. Class action lawsuits alleging consumers are being misled by 'all-natural' claims now being filed in California on almost a weekly basis.” Clearly, this is a murky issue.
How does the FDA define natural? The FDA says, “from a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
USDA regulated food products (meat, poultry, and egg products) labeled natural must, “be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients [or added color]. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”). However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products.”
So how can you help explain to shoppers what the “natural” claim actually includes and help clear up the confusion in your store? Encourage shoppers to become experts at reading ingredient lists and not getting caught up by claims on front of packaging. Hosting a “decoding food labels” store tour, or setting up a demo table to sample and explain food labels are sure ways to boost shoppers label reading confidence. Sharing quick label reading video tips on social media is also a fun way to demonstrate what to look for with visuals that shoppers can remember and watch on their own time.
Looking ahead, there will be changes in labeling and allowable claims for certain products, and we might even see stricter rules for using the natural claim on food products. Natural is a hot topic these days and clearly is misleading for consumers, as retail dietitians from around the country would attest to