Recently, the Ben & Jerry’s brand announced that it had decided to take the phrase “All Natural” off some of their ice cream and frozen yogurt packages. This is in response to a request from The Center for the Science in the Public Interest who challenged B&J’s use of materials that “underwent changes in molecular structure.” By this definition, ingredients like alkalized cocoa, invert sugar, even baking soda are considered “unnatural.” Ben & Jerry’s said that they took this step in order to avoid, in their words, debating what the word “natural” means.
By acquiescing, some consumers may infer that Ben & Jerry’s admitted to doing something wrong. In discussions today, others wondered why CSPI went after Ben & Jerry’s, citing other products with a much higher artificial ingredient count. It’s hard to come down definitively on either side of this debate because “natural” has no standard definition … it’s all up for interpretation. And that’s the problem.
“Natural” is a remnant of an earlier age. Back when, it was a code word to a specific niche of consumers who took on faith that if a brand called itself “natural” then it probably was. Good will and trust reigned. The very small market, of both consumers and producers of these products, had a common, generally agreed upon definition for “natural,” anyways. The “natural” movement was more a belief system than a marketing program. And at that time, the vague promise of “natural” was about the best you could say regarding most mass-produced and consumed food products.
But times have changed. Consumers have become smarter. Information is more readily available, both on the Web and at the shelf via your smart phone. Today consumers know about rGBH and BPA and where their strawberries come from and the conditions of the workers who picked them. Vague promises are no longer enough. Consumers want (and are making decisions based on) hard facts. Metrics are in–and increasingly brands are finding that vague promises like “Natural” are out.