Natural Food Has Its Own Set of Challenges

Consumers must be educated regarding their expectations of “natural.”

August 16, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As consumers become more interested in eating “natural” foods, problems have arisen around food waste, safety and appearance, reports Food Ingredients First

According to an article from the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute (KHNI), the problem starts with the fact that there is no standard definition of what “natural food” is, yet consumers look for food “as it should be.”  This has led to a wide variety of problems for grocers, ranging from determining the highest production rate needed to produce the highest yield while considering shelf life to the discarding of less than “perfect” looking items they are unable to sell.

For example, consumers are aware that a short shelf life is a key marker for natural baked and cooked foods. Appearance, taste and texture are also crucial, and many shoppers expect food to look as if they made it themselves or have the same appearance of foods they remember from their childhoods or travel experiences. In addition, short ingredient lists and recognizable ingredient names reassure consumers about their product choices.

To extend shelf life, manufacturers are using extracts, fermented vegetable juices, functional flavors and vinegar, while also ensuring that food still meets federal food safety regulations. Yet, food waste remains an issue. About one-third of all food globally goes to waste, and in North America, about 40% of food is wasted, the result of larger-than-average sized portions and the culture of bringing restaurant leftovers home.
Another challenge is today’s Instagram culture, which makes restaurants reluctant to serve a less-than-perfect plate. Plus, food visuals are important to consumers, who often hold specific beliefs of how natural food should appear.

KHNI predicts that smaller business will be important in re-educating consumers about what to expect when seeking natural foods. Today, larger and more-established brands are targeting less conscious consumers, which means educating shoppers to accept change may be a long process for such facilities. So, smaller brands will pave the way for larger brands to harness a more natural, artisanal-style offering, and that will present opportunities for small, local brands to dominate regionally.