Have you ever wondered what is meant when a food product is claimed to be “all-natural” or has “natural ingredients”? Market studies obviously demonstrate a clear competitive advantage for products bearing these labels; otherwise, they wouldn’t be used so frequently. But why is “natural” such a selling point?
To me, the word “natural” is relatively neutral and possesses neither positive nor negative connotations. There are many beneficial substances that occur naturally and probably just as many toxic ones, too, and the word “natural” can be applied to either category and anything in between.
So what does the average, uncritical consumer perceive the benefits of “natural” ingredients to be? To me, the answer is relatively obvious: no doubt influenced by today’s common wisdom as promoted by the mainstream media, most consumers labour under the assumption that “natural” automatically means good, nutritious and safe, while “man-made” ingredients, like apparently all things man-made, are necessarily empty, harmful and just plain bad.
But how does the consumer’s view square with the food regulators’ view? Do food regulators require food manufacturers to use the word “natural” in the spirit of consumer expectations, or do they instead allow manufacturers to cynically pander to the masses while permitting them to “work” the labeling guidelines in a way that makes their claims totally inconsistent with what customers expect? That is an important question.