The trend for ‘natural’ foods and beverages is one of the major themes in the food industry. However, getting to an exact definition of ‘natural’ is challenging, even controversial, and, of course, consumers also want to be confident that the food they buy is safe to eat.
What does the term ‘natural’ imply?
Natural suggests coming directly from nature. It implies that the product is non-processed or that any processes employed were natural. If you wish to use the term natural without qualification, it must be when food has had nothing added to it, save any necessary processing to make it safe for human consumption, e.g. smoking (without chemicals), traditional cooking methods and dehydration, or washing, sieving and/or traditional fermentation.
In the main, consumers do not consider freezing, concentration, pasteurisation and sterilisation processes to be natural. However, a product that has been subjected to these processes may still carry the term natural alongside reference to that process – frozen natural orange juice, for example. GM foods, cloning or other novel methods are also outside the realm of the public’s acceptance, and so the term ‘natural’ must be avoided if your product contains such ingredients.
What about food additives?
You can use the term ‘natural’ for food additives that originate from nature (food or plant) by appropriate processing (including distillation and solvent extraction) or traditional food preparation processes and flavourings which conform to the UK Flavourings in Food Regulations and EC Directives.
Some specific cases
The term “natural” signifies that dairy products are manufactured only from milk, using only necessary fermentation cultures and are free from preservatives, flavourings and colours. This usage is commonly understood, so it’s acceptable, providing the flavour has not been adjusted by other means.
“Natural mineral water” can be used if you follow national guidelines. For England “The Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Drinking Water (England) Regulations 2007 – SI 2007 No. 2785”11. Separate, but equivalent regulations are in force in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland.
Health and nutrition claims
Any references to health benefits must comply with Regulation EC 1924/2006. This legislation allows for the use of ‘naturally’ or ‘natural’ to accompany claims such as ‘low salt’, ‘sugar-free’ or ‘high protein’ when the food meets its conditions. It is suggested that ‘naturally/natural’ means that nothing has been removed or added, and that the food has not been subjected to any processes or treatment.
All legislation currently in place necessarily requires the clear labelling, advertising and presentation of products, packaged or otherwise, and that we don’t “mislead the purchaser by suggesting it has characteristics it does not”.