When PepsiCo replaced the word ‘Simply Natural’ with ‘Simply’ on some Frito-Lay lines recently, some commentators wondered if this signaled the beginning of the end of the industry’s love affair with all-natural claims. However, new data suggests otherwise.
According to Mintel, which tracks product launches in its global new products database (GNPD), the percentage of new products launched in the US featuring natural claims picked up again in 2013 after dipping slightly in 2012, suggesting that for some food marketers, at least, 'all-natural' remains as popular as ever.
14% of new products launched in US in 2013 had natural claims vs 12% in 2012
Mintel's innovation & insight director Lynn Dornblaser said that in 2010, the percentage of new products featuring natural claims was 14%; in 2012 it was 12%; and in 2013 it was back up at 14%, despite the surge in lawsuits over all-natural claims.
She told FoodNavigator-USA: “I took a look at the numbers, and was a bit surprised by what I saw. For 2013, it's back up to almost 14%. That the ‘natural’ claim is up at all is surprising given the lawsuit situation.”
But some things have changed she noted: “For the ‘All Natural’ claim in 2013, it appears that it is retailers who are using it more on products, and the biggest companies are using it less.”
Retailers are using all-natural claim more, while the biggest brands are using it less
Another trend is the use of all-natural in combination with non-GMO claims, she said.
“I'm thinking there may be a link to the growth we've seen in products making a non-GMO claim. That claim appeared on about 2% of all food and drink introductions in the US in 2012, but on 6% of new introductions in 2013. It seems to me that those two are a natural (pardon the pun) pairing.”
She added: “I looked at all the products making an ‘All Natural’ claim, and the non-GMO claim appears on 14% of those products in 2013, but only 8% in 2012.”
49 lawsuits over natural claims filed in 2011, 85 in 2012 and 58 in 2013
However, it’s not clear whether the trend has peaked, said Erik Connolly, a partner in Winston & Strawn’s Chicago office, noting that owing to the length of time it has taken for many of these complaints to move through the courts, some plaintiffs’ attorneys may just be waiting to see how certain cases play out before filing fresh complaints.
He added: “If you have not already been sued, chances are that you are on the radar.”
Asked whether it is too risky to make all-natural claims on product labels, and what other phrases might be less likely to land firms in legal hot water, Jeff White, a partner at Robinson & Cole in Hartford, Connecticut, added:
“The issue [in these lawsuits] is not just about the word ‘natural’ per se. It’s about consumers feeling misled, so changing the word won’t necessarily end these lawsuits."
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