Natural meat supply chain
Farm-to-fork traceability and vertical integration may provide the paper trail necessary to justify a product's natural positioning.

Consider the process

It is the controversial and confusing use of the word natural on finished food products that has many marketers opting for claims of using natural ingredients or the avoidance of artificial ingredients. This, too, can be challenging to navigate.

“Going natural can be subjective, whereas going non-G.M.O. or organic has a set definition a formulator must meet,” Ms. Greene said. “The elimination of the word artificial from the ingredient statement doesn’t mean you are meeting what the consumer expects for a natural product.”

Meeting consumers’ expectations of what they perceive as natural ingredients may help avoid a lawsuit. Farm-to-fork traceability and vertical integration may provide the paper trail necessary to justify a natural positioning.

“We work closely with our agriculture partners to ensure the highest quality for our products, from seed development to planting, harvesting and production,” said Jean Shieh, marketing manager, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif. “We support our food industry customers with innovations like smoked onions, which are cold-smoked, California-grown onions that deliver a mellow smokiness and savory notes with no added chemicals or flavoring agents. We have also been providing ‘no ethoxyquin added’ paprika and chili powder to address the need for eliminating ethoxyquin from food products.”

Nancy Gaul, global marketing director-health and wellness, Tate & Lyle, Hoffman Estates, Ill., said, “With no legal definition for natural in the U.S., it is open to interpretation by manufacturers and consumers. We provide our customers with the facts on how our ingredients are made and sourced so that they can make informed decisions with regards to marketing claims aligned with the benefits.”

Processing and processing aids must be considered. Full transparency is paramount. 

“The simplest way to qualify an ingredient as natural is to ensure that the key component is natural — solely derived from plant or animal origin — with acceptable processing (heat, physical, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, fermentation),” said Denis Neville, chief executive officer, CoreFX Ingredients, Chicago. “These processes should not chemically alter the product.” 

Keeping an ingredient as similar to its origins helps a natural positioning, too. For example, CoreFX markets grass-fed dry butter made from Irish grass-fed butter with full traceability to the pasture. The emulsifier is simply grass-fed nonfat dry milk, versus a non-dairy or chemical-sounding emulsifier. 

“It is important for manufacturers to understand not just the source of the ingredient, but also to understand what processes the ingredient undergoes,” said Marilyn Stieve, marketing manager, Biospringer North America, Milwaukee.

Biospringer’s range of ingredients are all derived from yeast, a microorganism that is found in nature. She explained that there is confusion sometimes around yeast extracts because of the autolysis process. The company educates its customers on this natural enzymatic process.

“We employ no genetic modification technologies in the sourcing of our baker’s yeast strains,” Ms. Stieve said. “Baker’s yeast is grown using a natural process of fermentation that utilizes agricultural resources such as molasses and corn to feed the yeast. Natural enzymes allow for the breakage of the yeast cell wall (autolysis), which then allows the flavor components of protein and amino acids from the yeast cell to be extracted.”

With starch ingredients, many marketers agree that chemical modification disqualifies them from a natural designation. Physical modification is typically deemed acceptable.

For example, Beneo’s native rice starches meet the natural expectations for consumers while also providing manufacturers with the opportunity to utilize high-performance rice starches in applications requiring severe processing conditions. Rice starch is also known for its hypoallergenic properties and easy digestibility.

“Food brand owners and processors often have natural committees, which are comprised of research and development, regulatory, marketing and sales, and legal teams in order to determine if a particular ingredient meets their standards for natural and can be listed in a product labeled as such,” said Dave Charest, vice-president, meat industry, Corbion, Lenexa, Kas.