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11/12/2018 – News / Food Processing / Beverages / Natural / Organic / GMO-Free / Mintel / Canada

Confusion over vague ‘natural’ product claims is driving a ‘free-from’ food revolution in Canada, suggests new Mintel data


While natural food and drink appears to have gone mainstream in Canada, research from Mintel seems to suggest that confusion around what ‘natural’ actually means is serving to inspire a ‘free-from’ revolution across the F&B space.


In the decade up to 2017, there was an incredible 366-per-cent increase in ‘GMO-free’ claims on natural food/drink launches in Canada, reveals new research from Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). Over the same period, new product claims of being ‘additive-free’ or ‘preservative-free’ grew 21 per cent. Yet, interestingly, more nebulous claims – such as ‘all natural product’ –declined by 62 per cent over the 2007-2017 study period. 


Although natural/organic food and drink shoppers are most likely to agree that foods and beverages with natural/organic claims are better for you (42 per cent), new Mintel Research reveals that there’s confusion among some consumers surrounding what that actually means: in fact, shoppers are just as likely to agree that natural/organic foods and beverages offer clear benefits (22 per cent) as they are to say that foods with natural/organic claims are a gimmick (19 per cent). Consumers can more easily define ‘organic’ claims than ‘natural’ claims as shoppers are significantly more likely to consider organic products as being free of certain additives, including free of pesticides (53 per cent Vs 35 per cent forthose claiming to be natural), preservative-free (46 per cent Vs 39 per cent) and hormone-free (41 per cent Vs 30 per cent).


“Natural claims are evolving”


“Natural claims are evolving to provide greater clarity about the benefits of these products, as consumers increasingly demand total transparency from food and drink companies – as noted in Mintel’s 2018 Global Food and Drink Trend ‘Full Disclosure’. Manufacturers, companies and brands are responding by providing more defined positioning, including substituting vague claims like ‘all natural’ in favour of more specific claims such as ‘GMO-free’ or ‘preservative-free’,” advised Joel Gregoire, Associate Director of Canada Food and Drink Reports for Mintel. “As such, focusing on ‘free-from’ positioning appears to be a more direct means to communicate the inherent value of natural/organic products,” 


Rise in natural/organic purchases


Despite the fact that some consumers are unclear about the perceived health benefits of natural and organic products, it seems consumers are adding them to their grocery carts more and more. Around three in 10 (29 per cent) shoppers say they are buying more natural foods and beverages in 2018 compared to a year ago – more than four times the percentage of consumers who say they are buying less (seven per cent). Meanwhile, 28 per cent of shoppers say they’re buying more organic foods and beverages this year compared to 11 per cent who say they’re buying less.


Natural and organic food and drink is becoming more commonplace in Canadian households as seven in 10 (71 per cent) consumers say that at least some of their food and drink purchases are natural or organic, including more than one-quarter (26 per cent) who claim that roughly half or more of their F&B purchases are natural or organic.


Looking to give their kids the best start in life, parents are most likely to purchase natural/organic products, with one-third (33 per cent) saying that half or more of their groceries are natural/organic, with safety a key driver. Parents (40 per cent) are more likely to find food and drink products with natural/organic claims to be safer, compared to 33 per cent of non-parents.


“As natural and organic food and drink becomes a more mainstream grocery item, consumers are increasingly adding these items to their carts. Our research shows that parents represent a key segment for natural/organic foods and drinks, with these products likely to comprise a greater proportion of their grocery baskets,” continued Mr Gregoire, adding that natural/organic claims appear to serve as added reassurance of safety for parents when it comes to what they are serving their kids. This highlighted “an opportunity for natural and organic brands to focus their messaging around these products as being a safer option,” he said.


Price remains biggest barrier to buying natural/organic


Finally, price remains the biggest barrier to natural/organic food product purchase as almost 7 in 10 (69 per cent) of shoppers say they would purchase more natural/organic foods if they were less expensive. Meanwhile, just 22 per cent agree that natural/organic foods are worth paying more for. It seems that for many consumers, the pricey reputation of these products overtakes their healthful reputation. In fact, Canadians are more likely to attribute organic foods and drinks with being expensive (52 per cent) than with being nutritious (33 per cent).


“Cost continues to be a major concern for consumers when it comes to purchasing natural and organic food and drink, so much so that it outweighs perceived healthfulness. This highlights the need for manufacturers and companies to address the reputation that these products are costly without diminishing their value to the consumer,” advised Mr Gregoire in closing. “Brands should focus on communicating how and by whom foods are sourced as a way to communicate transparency and strengthen trust. Technology can play a greater role in facilitating transparency as it can give consumers an unfiltered, behind-the-scenes view of the production process to provide added assurance around the safety of the products they’re eating and drinking,” he concluded.


For more Mintel food & drink insight, visit:

Latest issue – Vol 1/23
– Health & Nutrition focus
– Gulfood 2023 Special
– Next level legume – The rise of the chickpea
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