As marketers weigh qualifying the controversial claim versus abandoning it all-together, new promise could be emerging for the “fresh” descriptor, a Datamonitor survey found.
The percentage of new food products (excluding beverages) making any kind of natural claims has retreated over the past few years, though the claim is still quite prominent, according to Datamonitor. The company’s Consumer’s Product Launch Analytics database of new products found that 22.0% of new food products launched in the US from Jan. 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014 made some sort of “natural” claim, but that is down significantly from the 30.3% that did the same in 2010 and the 30.4% that did so in 2009.
“Quite honestly, I am surprised that the percentages are this high since a ‘natural’ claim has become lawsuit bait to the point where both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have been sued on the basis of products making natural claims that also contained ingredients alleged to be non-natural,” Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“What does appear to be happening, though, is that companies are trying harder to qualify the ‘natural’ claim. In more cases, we are seeing the claim relate to the use of specific ingredients, such as natural flavors or natural sweeteners. There seems to be a perception that this qualification may help guard against legal action, though this remains to be seen.”
Overall, Mintel found that the percent of food and beverage introductions making an “all natural” claim held steady at 14% from year-end 2013 through July 2014, though a closer look at the quarterly data indicates a downward shift is occurring, Lynn Dornblaser, Mintel's innovation and insights director, told us.
“If you look at the data by quarter, what you see is that the percent of products with an ‘all natural’ claim in the month of August—so, Q3—is down to 8%,” she said. “Now, that could rise, but to me it seems to be indicating a shift in what's on the market.”
She said she expected a drop in product launches bearing the claim much earlier, noting that the delay could be related to the time it takes for products to actually get to market. “If that’s the case, then it could be the decline we are seeing in July will continue,” she added. “Given all the lawsuits, it seems inevitable.”
But it doesn't mean consumers aren't still interested in naturality as a characteristic. Indeed, Mintel found that consumers are still seeking out “natural attributes” in many categories, or at the very least say they are interested in trying them, according to Dornblaser. “We see that especially in sugar and sugar substitutes, for example,” she said.
‘Minimally processed’ claim up; presents just as many legal issues as ‘natural’
As the natural claim has retreated, Datamonitor is seeing a pickup in alternative marketing claims, such as “minimally processed”, though Vierhile says claims like this have many of the same issues as “natural”, since there is no standard to indicate exactly what it means.