Prepare to be Confused: Horizon Organic Launches a Natural Product Line

Horizon Organic, the country’s largest organic milk products distributor, has recently announced a new line of “all natural” products. This is dismaying to many fans of the organic movement, because it would cause an erosion in revenue and profit to organic farmers.

You see, “Natural” is an undefined term, at least from a regualtory perspective. Which means products labeled “Natural” will enjoy the Horizon aura of health, but cost far less to manufacture, reaping a hefty profit to Horizon.

The first products are toddler yogurts, called Little Blends, and are expected to roll out later this month. Milk Breakers, a boxed vanilla / chocolate drink is slated for later this year.

According to Horizon, their natural products will be produced “without added hormones, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup.” [source: LA Times]

What you need to know:

This is a great marketing move by Dean Foods, the mega dairy corporation that acquired Horizon back in 2003. In professional lingo this is called brand extension. You take the well known spotted cow logo of Horizon Organic and plaster it on new line of products.

What’s deceptive here, is that the new product line is NOT organic. The amorphous “all natural” claim is not defined by the FDA or USDA, although a  an FDA spokeswoman said “the agency does not object to using the term on food labels ‘in a manner that is truthful and not misleading’ and if the product has no added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

But this is too open ended. For example, High Fructose Corn Syrup is considered by some manufacturers as a natural product, because it is made from corn.

“All natural” foods are one of the fastest growing product categories in the US in the past year. It’s no wonder all the big manufacturers are jumping on board. It’s great for sales, because it lets consumers feel good about their choice, even with no real backing.

At the end of the day, this move will deteriorate even further consumer perception of differences between organic and natural food. This ultimately hurts organic farmers, who are already struggling in a tough economy.

Horizon has previously been called out for production practices claimed to be out of line with organic principles. It seems that the bigger you grow as a company, the harder it is to adhere to your original beliefs and principles.

And don’t get us started on toddler yogurts. What’s the problem with junior enjoying a regular yogurt? Is it caffeinated? Does it have alcoholic content? But that’s the subject for another post.

What to do at the supermarket:

Don’t get duped by “Natural” labels. They do not necessarily mean the product is healthy for you. If you want no growth hormones, antibiotics, and free pastured cows, you’ll have to cough up the cash to pay for the more expensive organic products.

And if you are buying conventional, look beyond the front of package marketing hype and read the nutrition panel carefully. Look at daily values for nutrients and examine the ingredient list.  A high amount of fat and sugar in a product may count as natural, but they definitely do not make it a healthy food.

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  • Truelove

    What an F’n joke, Never buying a Horizon product again.