Survey: 'Natural' Isn't Good Enough

According to additional poll results, respondents would be most likely to trust a natural certification verified by a non-profit or independent party (33 percent). Photo: Flickr/smif

In a recent poll conducted by Mambo Sprouts Marketing, a natural products marketing company, eco-conscious consumers are becoming less confident in a widely used, and traditionally “green,” marketing term.

Mambo Sprouts surveyed the organic buying habits of 1,000 consumers who typically buy eco-friendly fare and discovered that trust in the word “natural” on a product or package has fallen.

The survey highlights an interesting twist on an already prominent aspect of purportedly green products: consumer confusion abounds. In the case of “natural,” there are no strict regulations on the use of the word, meaning that a multitude of products can say they are “natural” without meeting any certain criteria.

According to Mambo Sprouts, 34 percent of respondents  were either “not very” or “not at all” confident in current natural labeling. Sixty-five percent were very interested in a uniform standard to certify natural products, their ingredients and the processes utilized to create them, and 25 percent were “somewhat interested.”

In related findings, more than one-third of U.S. consumers state a willingness to pay a premium for environmentally friendly products, according to a 2010 Mintel study. Mintel’s results indicate that consumers must be educated about what they are buying specifically, before they take out extra cash for green products.

The results of both of these, and many other, studies are one of the myriad reasons why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working to revise its Green Guides, which are the standards that describe the proper ways to use eco-friendly marketing claims in a non-misleading manner.

The current proposed revisions to the Guides write that “At least in part because of the difficulties in developing a definition of ‘natural’ that would be appropriate in multiple contexts, both the [Food and Drug Administration] and the FTC have previously declined to establish a general definition.”

Although the proposed revisions do not call for a specific definition of “natural,” the document suggests that the word will have to follow the same rules as other general environmental claims, which will require some form of substantiation in order to be used.

This is not to say that there are not truly natural products available for purchase, as many companies strive to use simple ingredients and processes that are more along the path of how these products exist in nature. And, there are many eco-labels and terms that are more strictly defined and regulated, such as “organic.” However, it is important for consumers to be educated about these various terms and claims, to help ensure that they are buying a product that meets their expectations.

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