CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Natural is the new black.
The word "natural" was the leading claim made about new products made last year, according to Mintel, appearing on nearly one in four new food and drink products, a 9% increase from 2007.
The term is bestowing a halo of wholesomeness on some products, such as pizza, unaccustomed to basking in that glow. But doesn't equate to "healthful" -- though many consumers think it does, leading nutritionists to conclude they are getting duped.
Lay's potato chips, Tropicana orange juice, Welch's grape juice and Pizza Hut pizza are among the launches this year by major marketers making natural claims.
Key to nutritionists' concerns are fears that the term will override nutritional information and portion control. "When someone hears, 'That's natural,' they think, 'That's good for me; I can eat as much as I want,'" said Keri Gans, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The "natural" din has become so loud, in fact, that the USDA recently set guidelines for meat bearing the word for the first time. "Natural" meat must now be raised without hormones or antibiotics and never have been fed animal byproducts.
The guidelines have implications for Pizza Hut, which launched "The Natural" pizza this month with a multigrain crust and "all-natural" everything: mozzarella, sauce without added corn syrup, tomatoes and pepperoni that has been preserved with rosemary instead of nitrates. However, Pizza Hut spokesman Chris Fuller said the USDA guidelines will not affect the pie's marketing.
"Natural" claims are increasingly disputed, as evidenced by claims made to the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division, though the complaints are generally raised for competitive reasons. The group is examining ConAgra's Hunt's Tomato Sauce, which claims to be made from "100% all-natural, vine-ripened tomatoes." A competitor said the label implies the tomatoes were fresh when packaged.
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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda and Marissa Miley