Marketers fret over confusion of natural, organic

01/06/2012 11:00:00 AM
Jim Offner

It’s just not accurate, they say.

“One of the myths that often catches my attention — and something that requires a little re-education — is the notion that ‘everyone understands the difference between organic and natural,’” said Simcha Weinstein, marketing director with Albert’s Organics in Bridgeport, N.J. 
“This turns out not to be so true.”

The implication in the loose use of the terms, Weinstein said, is that both come from nature.

Weinstein illustrated his point by citing results of a survey by the Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based advertising agency.

“When asked what is the best description to read on a label, 31% of respondents chose ‘100% natural,’ 25% chose ‘all-natural ingredients’ and 7% chose ‘contains natural ingredients,’” Weinstein said. 

“Only 14% chose ‘100% organic’ and about 12% chose ‘certified-organic ingredients.’”

Weinstein said he found that curious.

“The irony here is that ‘natural’ basically means very little on a food label,” he said.

Gwen Gulliksen, sales and marketing director for Los Angeles-based Harvest Sensations, agrees.

“Natural doesn’t mean anything. It’s a marketing term,” she said.

Confusion over the two terms is widespread, said Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association.

“A more baffling hurdle for us and our colleagues in Canada is the confusion over natural, not realizing that something is natural is not necessarily organic,” Haumann said. 

“You talk about natural meat or milk and you don’t know the animals have been fed genetically engineered grain.”

Weinstein said there’s much more meaning behind an “organic” label, not the least of which are strict certification standards that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has established.

“Organic is a food certification system,” he said.

“Whenever you see an organic label on a food product, it indicates that the farmer, producer or manufacturer has passed regular inspections of their facilities, ingredients, and their practices. They must pay a fee for their certification, keep very thorough and accurate records and must follow very strict guidelines.”

There are no certification guidelines for products that bear “natural” labeling, Haumann said.

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