The Leanwashing Lowdown

Naked Juices and ‘Natural’

Posted on August 15, 2013

Recently, PepsiCo Inc. announced it will no longer label its Naked juices as being “all natural,” after a lawsuit complained that the drinks contain decidedly non-natural ingredients. In light of that, we wondered what would happen to the word “natural” in food marketing. We turned to Bruce Bradley, a Leanwashing Index advisory panel member, to help us sort out what this could mean for the word “natural” in marketing.

Q: How should “natural” be defined when it’s used by advertisers?
A: I think natural should be defined in line with what consumers believe the word actually means. But what I think will happen is a little different.

Q: How do you think “natural” should be defined?
A: “Natural” should only be used to describe products that use ingredients that come from nature and are minimally processed. What’s minimally processed? For example, a stevia leaf is natural. Flavor extracted from that stevia leaf by crushing it and soaking it and then concentrating that liquid is natural. But when stevia leaves are processed through some 40-plus-step patented process that includes the use of acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile and isopropanol, then that’s no longer natural. Yet under today’s system of no rules, Truvia (a sweetener in part derived from stevia leaves) calls itself “natural.”

Q: Will the government step in and regulate the use of “natural” in advertising?
A: I think the Food and Drug Administration is going to be forced to define “natural.” Consumers are frustrated, manufacturers don’t like to get sued, and the courts are asking the FDA for direction. So I’m pretty confident we will get a definition for “natural” in the next year or so.

Q: Will that cut down on the use of “natural” in leanwashing?
A: I’m very skeptical that the definition the FDA comes up with will be meaningful or in line with what consumers’ believe “natural” means. Given the influence that the food industry has with the FDA, it’s very likely that the definition we end up with will have many loopholes.

Q: Will a legal definition of “natural” be effective in reducing leanwashing, even with the loopholes?
A: No matter what definition the FDA ultimately comes up with, it will likely reduce the abuse of the term “natural” to some extent. However, I don’t expect the FDA will make a ruling that is truly in sync with what consumers believe is “natural,” so the term will likely still be quite misleading to your average person.

Q: Short of FDA action, what are some of the best ways to hold companies accountable for misusing the word “natural”?
A: In our current system, there really aren’t many ways to hold companies accountable other than consumers calling them out on sites like the Leanwashing Index or via other social media. If and when the FDA does define natural, taking companies to court will only work if they violate the definition established by the FDA.

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