A woman is suing Frito-Lay, the snack division of PepsiCo, for what she says is deceptive use of the phrase “all natural ingredients” on its packages of products like Tostitos and Sun Chips. Frito-Lay’s products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), aka corn and vegetable oils, which means that its products are not “natural,” according to the plaintiff. The USDA and FDA do not have criteria in place for use of the term “natural” in food products.
Frito-Lay and other snack food makers have been touting natural ingredients as a way to attract consumers for several years now. Consumers are becoming more aware of the amount and types of ingredients in many processed foods. Rather than develop completely new products, many in the snack foods industry reformulate and reintroduce existing products as “natural” or “healthy.” Frito-Lay, for example, advertised its classic potato chips as “simple,” saying the chips only have three ingredients: potatoes, salt, and oil.
In 2010, Frito-Lay expanded its efforts to provide healthy and simple products. The company announced that half of its product would contain only natural ingredients, meaning no artificial flavors, preservatives, or MSG, by the end of 2011. Frito-Lay then launched the largest integrated marketing campaign in the company’s history. The campaign involved highlighting the ingredients, processes, and supply chains of the snacks.
But this consumer isn’t buying it…at least not any more.
She says the company uses corn and oil from genetically modified crops, which are not naturally occurring. Therefore, Frito-Lay’s products are not natural and its advertising is deceiving consumers. She may be right too, at least in terms of the definition of GMOs. Monsanto, a pioneer in the development of genetically modified crops, defines GMOs as:
“Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism that shows a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism.”
If the court agrees that GMOs are not “natural,” it will be virtually impossible for Frito-Lay or other snack food makers to claim their products containing soy or corn have natural ingredients. Soybeans and corn are two of the most commonly genetically engineered (GE) crops in the US, according to the USDA. About 94 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of corn is grown from GE seeds.
This could be a devastating outcome for the industry, especially Frito-Lay. The company’s product reformulations to contain only natural ingredients represented the largest product transformation in the company’s history.
Stay tuned to Bizmology for more information about Frito-Lay and food makers’ natural ingredient claims as the case progresses.