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How To Tell The Difference Between Organic vs Natural and What’s Clean

Posted by Eric Tsai

The latest issue of Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine has a very informative article by Jane Hoback on the difference between Organic vs. Natural.

Although this is a trade publication, the article has some useful information to help guide you through what manufacturers are doing and how to tell if a brand is trying to provide the right kind of education for consumers.

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We know there is a lot of confusion on the topic of organic versus natural not to mention all the other trendy terms such as local, fresh, sustainable, safe, green, quality or no additives. It can get frustrating and confusing real fast.

The article goes on to recommend 4 ways to focus on getting back to the basics — education. And this is why Plantlife will continue to provide useful information you can use to help you cut through the noise and get to the information you need.

After all, we’ve been doing this since 1994!

In addition, the article mentioned a study conducted by The Hartman Group, “Beyond Organic and Natural” which we thought has some good basic definition of what Organic, Natural and Clean means, here is an excerpt from the executive summary:

While the organic market can be characterized as mature (bordering on the brink of becoming a commodity), the vast sea of products regularly launched and marketed under the mantle of “natural” seems to ebb and flow uninterrupted despite the fact that consumers often perceive the term “natural” simply as a marketing ploy. And yet, what seems to keep the term “natural” alive, is that it fulfills certain symbolic ideals.

In fact, both organic and natural are seen as complementary attributes by consumers all the way from the Periphery (least intensely involved in the World of Organics) to the Core (more intensely involved). Specifically:

  • Organic is understood as pertaining to what happens to food at it’s origin (e.g., the farm, the plant, the animal). Conceptually, consumers think of organic as making a product “more natural.” As organic becomes more mainstream it loses some meaning for consumers making additional attributes increasingly necessary. Price is the key barrier to purchasing organic; other barriers are declining.
  • Natural as a consumer ideal is understood as what happens to the food after it is grown (e.g., reducing processing steps). However, skepticism around natural as a marketing term is prevalent throughout the World of Organic, even in the Periphery. Consumers see “natural” as a marketing term, meaningless alone, which may encourage them to investigate the product more, but is not enough by itself. When products labeled natural and/or organic are clearly not healthy (e.g., high in fat, sugar or sodium and low in nutrients) consumer skepticism grows.
  • Clean goes beyond organic and natural: Consumers are continually redefining quality. While natural and organic are still sought by consumers as positive attributes, as natural and organic become more and more diluted in meaning, consumers are seeking more specific information regarding the foods and beverages they buy. The notion of “clean” encompasses a wide variety of attributes that communicate quality to consumers including farming, production, processing and ingredients. To consumers clean has both symbolic associations (fresh, safe, local, healthy) and objective associations (less processed, no chemicals, nothing artificial).

Go HERE to download the complete Beyond Organic and Natural syndicated study overview.

Have a question on natural or organic? Feel free to ask your question below and we’ll do our best to answer them.

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