Navigating the “Natural” store shelves

Written By:
Cara Welch, Ph.D., scientific and regulatory affairs manager for the Natural Products Association
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Let’s face it: Natural is all the rage. Whether it’s what we eat, what we put on our bodies or what we use in our homes, people everywhere are making the choice to go natural. And at this time of year, companies will use every bit of advantage they can think of to set themselves apart from competitors. Nowhere is this more evident than on our store shelves—in fact, 13,000 new “natural” products were introduced just last year.

But how can you tell if the cosmetics or cleaning products that line store shelves are the level of natural that you expect? Consider this: the companies that make these products are the ones that decide whether they can be called natural. If that doesn't inspire that much confidence, you aren't alone. A recent poll found that 83% of consumers would like to see a set definition for the word "natural."

The Natural Products Association (NPA), the oldest and largest natural products trade group in the United States, is trying to help consumers navigate the natural shelves by creating a seal that will help consumers easily identify what products are truly “natural.”  The NPA launched the Natural Standard and Certification program for personal care products in 2008, certifying almost 350 products to date. With the success of the personal care program, the NPA next turned its attention to the exploding natural home care category with a Natural Standard and Certification for home care products, which launched in early 2010.

The NPA Natural Seal is the first and only certification in the US focused on the verification of natural ingredients and products, helping consumers more easily discern which products meet its high standard of “natural.” This means all personal care products and home care products marked with the Natural Seal are at least 95% natural— excluding water from the calculations. Natural ingredients must be from a renewable resource found in nature (Flora, Fauna, Mineral), and processed within the published list of allowed processes, avoiding synthetic additives and petroleum by-products.

Below are some tips to help determine how natural a product really is:

Read the label:
• Ingredients, either on the label or on the company website are the most important key to whether or not a product is truly natural—avoid ingredients like parabens, phthalates, synthetic polymers and silicones

Do your research:
• The NPA’s website lists all of the natural products by company that have received the Natural Seal—visit www.TheNaturalSeal.org

Pass it on:
• Tell your friends about the NPA Natural Seal and how it helps consumers identify whether a product is truly natural—word of mouth is powerful!

Check out our Facebook page, at www.Facebook.com/NPANaturalSeal, or follow our Twitter feed, @NPANaturalSeal, for updated information.

Cara Welch, Ph.D., is the scientific and regulatory affairs manager for the Natural Products Association. Welch leads up the NPA Natural Seal program in addition to working on the NPA GMP Certification program for dietary supplements and providing guidance on regulatory, safety, nutrition and health issues for governmental and non-governmental agencies.

Comments

Natural food & garden is great. Reliable hours and vegan/organic supply I've only seen in the crunchiest parts of Brooklyn. The only thing I haven't been able to get there is a full Tofurkey...but they'll help you find something else to take its place and smile while doing it.

Eco Logo, DFE, Green Seal, Green Star and now NPA. Which seal is right? Which seal will the consumer ultimately have faith in? The NPA is charging $500 per sku for members and $1250 per sku for non members. (http://www.npainfo.org/clientuploads/naturalSeal/Home%20Care%20App%20092...)

This article seems more like a membership drive and profit center for NPA than benefit for the trade & consumer.

Comments from Cara Welch, Ph.D., scientific and regulatory affairs manager for the Natural Products Association

The seals you reference above are all reputable programs, but The Natural Seal addresses natural claims exclusively—not certifying products as either green or ecologically friendly. As I mentioned in the article, approximately 13,000 products were introduced to the market last year as “natural”. Consumers are adamant they need a way to assess the credibility of these claims.

Statistics show:

• 78% think natural personal care is currently regulated while 97% think it should be.

• 83% think there should be one meaning for “natural” and 86% agree that there should be a symbol to certify a natural personal care product.

• 78% said there should be regulations/standards for natural home care products.

Given the obvious consumer confusion, the NPA set out to define the term “natural” for personal care products and home care products.

Regarding your comment of fees, the NPA is a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization. The costs associated with certification are a flat fee which cover administrative costs and auditor fees, both of which are necessary to provide a robust and thorough assessment of a "natural" claim. Furthermore, all the seals you mentioned have costs associated with them…either flat fees (like the NPA Natural Seal) per product or those that include multiple add-on costs such as administrative fees, annual maintenance fees, monitoring fees, auditing fees, etc.— some of which are dependent on outside company services.

We feel confident that for discriminating consumers who value products which are truly "natural", the Natural seal will provide the assurance they demand. Thank you for your feedback and best wishes.

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