Adding to a wave of “all natural” lawsuits, a woman recently sued Tropicana, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, for labeling its juice as 100 percent natural. The plaintiff says Tropicana uses flavor packs that are engineered in a laboratory and therefore unnatural. She also says she thought the Pure Premium Tropicana was freshly squeezed, not pasteurized, because it was in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
The Florida Citrus Processors Association says most OJ is pasteurized to kill bacteria and extend shelf-life. It is common for orange juice makers to use flavor packs to restore flavor that is stripped away in the pasteurization process.
These processing techniques are nothing new; however consumers are becoming more interested in healthy products and more skeptical of “natural” food claims. The latest suit against Tropicana is one of about 20 that have plagued the industry recently.
OJ makers are not alone either. Food makers like Snapple, Ben & Jerry’s and Frito-Lay, to name a few, have also come under fire for labeling products as natural. (See my previous Bizmology post about the Frito-Lay natural ingredient debate.)
Much of the controversy stems from the FDA’s definition, or lack thereof, of “natural.” Foods that do not have added colors, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances can be labeled as “natural.”
You might ask about these flavor packs. Aren’t they artificial flavors? Well, the flavor is derived from real oranges, according to the industry. It is not unlike using high fructose corn syrup. Although processed, HFCS does come from corn, and can be legally labeled as natural.
As the FDA definition stands now, you could argue that both consumers and food manufacturers are right. Without a clear line between what is natural and unnatural, consumer confusion will grow and some in the legal industry believe these “all natural” cases will pile up. If mislabeling accusations continue, the food industry may have to be more transparent or else face more regulations from the FTC and FDA about natural food claims.