‘Natural’ Viewed as Greener Than ‘Organic’

vector eco shopping bag“Natural” keeps gaining steam, even if people aren’t quite sure what it means.

A new survey found Amercian shoppers believe a “natural” label claim is a better indicator of an eco-friendly product than “organic.”    The Shelton Group conducted a survey of 1,006 U.S. consumers and found that nearly two-thirds were looking for greener products.  Yet many consumers have become more skeptical of companies’ green credentials, accusing them of “greenwashing.”  They also don’t seem to understand green terminology.

When asked “How do you know a product is green?” the top response was “don’t know/not sure,” at 22%.  The second most popular response, at 20%, was “says so on the package/label.”   And what influenced them the most on the label?  The most persuasive was “100% natural,” at 31%.  The term “organic” was less trusted, at 14%.

Despite federal certification standards, consumers thought “organic” was an unregulated marketing buzzword that means the product is more expensive.  “Natural” carried more weight.

organic-food-usda-94513This comes at time when the purity of the “organic” label is being questioned.  This Washington Post article reviews the issue and the growing concern that trust in the USDA Organic label is eroding. 

“Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry….But the USDA program’s shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect:  foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.

The market’s expansion is fueling tension over whether the federal program should be governed by a strict interpretation of “organic” or broadened to include more products by allowing trace elements of non-organic substances.  The argument is not over whether the non-organics pose a health threat, but whether they weaken the integrity of the federal organic label.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to protect the label, even as he acknowledged the pressure to lower standards to let more products in.”

Is organic food worth the extra cost?  That’s the question recently posed by WebMD is this slide show.

Update:  Since my original post on the subject of “natural” vs. “organic,” the topic was featured in a front-page article  in the Chicago Tribune by Monica Eng.  It really hits home the current state of consumer confusion and how the lines between natural and organic are being blurred.

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