What Does ‘Natural’ Really Mean?

April 15, 2018By Industry Intuition, Views


by Jen Johnston, CHHC,  senior marketing services account manager, as seen in Mass Market Retailer, March 5, 2018

The natural products market is exploding across retail, with conventional channels growing the fastest, according to the "2017 Natural Foods Merchandiser Market Overview."

However, "natural" continues to be a confusing term in the in­dustry. A January 2018 FONA International study showed that two-thirds of shoppers equate the term natural with healthy, and yet the meaning of the term "healthy" itself is also debated.

For instance, people with al­lergies place emphasis on "free from" products, and those with doctor-recommended diets may pursue, for example, low-FOD­MAP or gluten-free products. Others look for clean label items with fewer chemicals they deem as harmful. Some seek items that mesh with their dietary lifestyle, like paleo or plant-based. Still more desire brands with a social mission with which they identify.

All these consumer interests converging have propelled the natural products industry to a whopping $180 billion in sales. While natural food has shown strength for a while, natural sup­plements, O-T-Cs and personal care products are beginning to see larger gains as people look for products they deem as "better" for them. Through our analysis, Hamacher Resource Group (HRG) has iden­tified the top three categories for products with natural claims within drug stores: vitamins/min­erals/supplements, skin care and hair care, and the top claims are gluten free, natural and no ani­mal testing. "Within skin care,"states HRG category analyst Michele Feldner, "beauty hand and body moisturizers and body cleansing liquids by far have the most natural claims."

During a speech at a recent ECRM event, HRG vice president of strategic relations Dave Wend­land noted: "Today's consumers don't think or shop within tradi­tional categories; they want solu­tions to their needs wherever they find themselves in the store." He predicted that new forms, ingredi­ent pairings and innovation will continue to accelerate the growth of natural product sales.

Brands should ask themselves not if they want to be perceived as natural, but if they want to be per­ceived as "better." They should then define what they want to be free from, what their social mis­sion is and how transparent their labeling will be. "Certifications are the consumers' guideposts," says Angela Pinkstaff, director of business development at HRG.

Retailers should assess their criteria for natural brands. If they have stringent ingredient-based policies, they should consider publicizing them. Stores that haven't considered what "social mission" means to their own brand should take advice from natural brands that are resonat­ing well with consumers.