What “Natural” Means to Consumers
Manufacturers that rely only on government guidance for developing natural products without understanding what consumers are really looking for can easily miss the mark. For example, while carrageenan is a natural ingredient, consumers that don’t recognize it as something they’d find in their pantries may not feel it’s natural unless the manufacturer clarifies its origin. On the other hand, a product that contains a natural color (like beet juice) or added vitamins isn't technically "natural" but may be perfectly acceptable—and even desirable—to the natural foods consumer.
Research probing consumers’ beliefs about “natural” shows consumers are drawn to the idea of natural foods as a healthier and more moral choice.1 A survey from Mintel offers a glimpse at consumer opinion on the term “natural.” Natural appeals to nearly half of US consumers with 49% agreeing they typically purchase natural foods. The results also reveal 53% of consumers associate the term “plant-based” with “natural.” While 50% of US consumers perceived “all natural” products as natural on food packaging.2
How Manufacturers Can Embrace Consumers’ Ideas of “Natural”
While “natural” food labeling should meet any government requirements, it should also pass the commonsense test to meet consumer expectations. According to Mintel, nearly 2 in 5 consumers agree that natural claims are too vague.3 Here are some key considerations in formulating natural foods and beverages to appeal to consumers specific needs:
1. No Artificial Ingredients
At a minimum, a natural product should be free from artificial ingredients, including artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives.
2. Familiar Ingredients
Using familiar ingredients and avoiding those with chemical-sounding names can help to reinforce a product’s natural status, even if it’s as simple as replacing “sodium bicarbonate” with “baking soda.”
3. Few Ingredients
Minimizing the number of ingredients in a product is another approach to natural food labeling, especially by calling out the number of ingredients or even listing them on the front of the package.
4. Minimally Processed
Terms that imply less processing are also likely to stand out to consumers as more natural—for example, cold-pressed or gently pasteurized, as well as “whole” to describe ingredients (such as whole wheat).
5. Grown or Raised in a Traditional Way
Food packaging claims that reference traditional production methods such as non-GMO, organic, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, and grass-fed also signal to consumers a more natural product.