“Clean labeling” is a food industry trend characterized by simpler ingredients and front of package marketing statements that attract health-oriented consumers looking for more natural foods. Many clean labels, including “all natural” are not clearly defined, nor regulated, and have the potential to detract from food labels that are regulated by the FDA and/or USDA.
To compare consumer use of federally regulated (organic) and unregulated (natural) food labels, and to determine whether use of these labels is associated with demographic characteristics.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
Computer-aided telephone interviews were collected (in February 2020) in a random, representative sample of Vermont residents (n = 574).
Respondents were asked about their use of food labels, including whether they used organic and/or natural food labels when evaluating food products. Associations between use of each type of food label and demographic variables (age, gender, income, education, having children in the household) were compared using chi-squares, and logistic regression (P < 0.01).
Most respondents indicated that they did use organic (70% of respondents) or natural (64% of respondents) labels when evaluating food products. Use of organic food labels was significantly higher among parents with children in the home (78%), women (77%), and those with a college degree or higher (75%). In contrast, use of natural labels was negatively associated with income, with the highest use (79%) seen in the lowest income category (<$25,000/yr).
The increasing use of unregulated marketing statements on packaged foods (including “natural,” “raw” and “minimally processed”) could be distracting consumers from using more regulated food labels, especially consumers with limited education or income. Nutrition education programs and federal labeling policies are needed to support consumer use of labels, and to prevent low-income consumers from potentially being deceived by unregulated food labels.