There is no legally binding definition of the term natural in the European Union, but the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) used guidance notes published by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) on criteria for using terms such as natural and pure to assess the complaint, which was filed by a food law consultant.
The FSA guidance states: "The term ‘natural’ without qualification should be used ... to describe single foods, of a traditional nature, to which nothing has been added
and which have been subjected only to such processing as to render them suitable for human consumption."
The document also provides guidance for compound foods that are made from more than one ingredient, stating “[they] should not themselves be described directly or by implication as ‘natural’, but it is acceptable to describe such foods as ‘made from natural ingredients’ if all the ingredients meet the criteria”.
When approached by the ASA, Appy said calcium lactate is a salt obtained through a natural fermentation process with lactic acid bacteria, and that it occurs naturally in dairy products. It is widely used to make yoghurt and other products.
The London-based company also said glucose-fructose syrup is obtained through hydrolysis of the starch contained within corn using an enzyme, a biological catalyst that could be found in the natural world.
For these reasons, it believed the ingredients had been obtained using natural processes, and therefore the products could be described as natural.
These arguments did not pass muster with the advertising regulator, however, which found the juice manufacturer in breach of the advertising code on two fronts.
Firstly, because the juices are not ‘single foods’ and, secondly, because the two ingredients in question fall outside the permitted processes in the FSA guidance on natural as they applied to individual ingredients of compound foods.
“We therefore considered they did not comply with consumer expectations of foods described as “natural”. For those reasons, we concluded that the claim ‘we ONLY make 100% natural products’ had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading,” it said, ruling the claim must not appear in its current form again.
Appy has now changed the wording on its packaging to comply with the ruling but it doesn't believe it has misled the public.
"Appy Food and Drinks products are made with natural ingredients and we did not have any doubts in calling them 'natural' since we do not use any artificial sweeteners, colourings or flavorings and also fill them without the need for artificial preservatives.
"We do not think it was misleading from a consumer point of view until [the] ASA pointed out it could be from a legal definition of the word."
What does 'natural' mean? The US is deciding...should Europe?
In May last year, US regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began the process of sifting through thousands of comments on what the term natural means after the submissions period inviting stakeholders and the general public to send in their opinions closed.
It faces a myriad of opposing views and a mammoth task.
The Natural Products Association argued (surprisingly) that foods derived from biotech crops should qualify for a 'natural' label while The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said: “The term 'natural' should not be used on food labels. Instead we urge FDA to focus its efforts on identifying and defining the ‘single attribute’ claims that may be used on food labels (no artificial colours or flavours).”
Tracy Molyneux, a member of the general public, said: “Food made by God is natural. Food made by a chemical company in the lab is not natural.”
Ivan Wasserman, food lawyer at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, told our sister publication FoodNavigator-USA that answering the question 'what is natural?' was simply too difficult.
"This is truly a no-win situation for the FDA," he said.
A spokesperson for Appy said: "We do believe there is confusion in food manufacturing in considering what is natural and what it is not. At the moment we want to create better products for children than what there is already on the market. It seems odd that we get accused of creating non natural products, while out there consumers think that drinking juices with 'zero sugars, zero calories' - due to the use of artificial ingredients - is healthier than ones with low quantities of natural sugars.
"We believe that if there is a regulation for the use of 'natural', there should be also a regulation on the use of artificial ingredients and the claims that can be made on packaging especially for the consequences on people's health."