What does “natural” mean in the context of product advertising? Consumers see phrases like “natural,” “all natural,” and “100% natural” over and over again in modern marketing. The trouble is that “natural” may not mean what consumers expect it to mean, thereby opening companies up to claims of false or misleading advertising.
Two recent lawsuits against Pret A Manger, the sandwich company, provide a cogent illustration. One complaint was filed by two consumers as a class action. The other was filed by three non-profit organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association) on behalf of their members and the general public. Both complaints assert that Pret A Manger has deceptively labeled, marketed, and sold certain bread and other baked goods as “Natural Food” when the products contain trace amounts of a chemical biocide. According to the non-profit plaintiffs, consumers are willing to pay more for “natural” products and consumers expect such products to be free of pesticides.
This isn’t the first time the Organic Consumers Association, the Federal Trade Commission, or others have gone after companies advertising their products as “natural.” Companies should be mindful when marketing their products using that term, and should be prepared to defend the claim with substantiation if necessary.