Another “all natural” label bites the dust.
In an emailed statement, PepsiCo announced late last week it will remove the “all natural” moniker from its Naked Juice product line for the foreseeable future. According to the Associated Press, PepsiCo agreed to pay $9 million to settle a lawsuit its plaintiffs filed, complaining the fruit, vegetable and smoothie drinks contained ingredients that did not fit the definition of “natural.” Synthetic fiber and vitamins were the offending ingredients in this case.
For a company insisting its corporate social responsibility agenda is focused on nutrition and sustainability, PepsiCo’s settlement is another example of the dubious labels it and other large food and beverage companies have used over the years. PepsiCo and its competitors have a long history of resisting both more transparent food labeling as well as demands to make their products genuinely more healthful for consumers.
The Naked Juice debacle is even more embarrassing because, according to the AP’s Candice Choi, the company knew its target customers who purchase the $4 bottles of juice would pay more per bottle if vitamins and other ingredients in the products were not synthetic and hence, truly natural.
Not only PepsiCo and its Frito-Lay brand have scored unwanted attention over misguiding and confusing product descriptions. Other companies have gotten into trouble over “all natural” labeling. Before Ben & Jerry’s announced it would shift to all fair-trade ingredients, the Unilever-owned ice cream company dropped the term from its packages after pressure from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. General Mills is currently in litigation over accusations that its Nature Valley Granola Bars use deceptive labeling (what, it took people that long to figure out those teeth-shattering rations are not “all natural?”), and ConAgra has also been nailed for having genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in some of its cooking oil products that again boasted the “all-natural” label. Retailers, including Trader Joe’s, have been called out over similar fancy terms such as “evaporated cane juice,” which in MBA-speak means granulated sugar.
In fairness to all of these companies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not offer concise guidance on when, or when not, to use the term “natural.” From the FDA site:
From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term ‘natural’ or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. – FDA.gov
If that were not comical enough, the FDA then asks, “How helpful was this information?” Well, such a definition does little to guide companies and consumers, but does give lawyers plenty of wiggle room for litigation. But that is why PepsiCo found itself in litigation – because the company was less than forthcoming about the ingredients in those “all natural” juices.
Meanwhile, PepsiCo’s media relation site still describes Naked Juices as “all natural.” In an era when consumers are waking up and are demanding more transparency and authenticity, it is finally time for large food companies to drop that pesky and slippery definition for good.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit: PepsiCo]