Drinks giant Cadbury Schweppes is to change the labelling on its flagship 7UP product, following a fierce debate on the validity of new 'all natural' claims it placed on its labels just nine months ago.
The company said it will instead focus on highlighting the natural ingredients in the drink "for which there is no debate" .
In April last year, Cadbury Schweppes reformulated its 7UP product to contain what it termed only '100 per cent natural' ingredients: filtered carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, natural citric acid, natural flavours and natural potassium citrate.
Television advertisements for the product claimed it "tastes better than ever because we stripped out all the artificial stuff," and showed cans of the drink being picked from fruit trees or harvested from the ground.
However, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) remains a controversial ingredient, and has been accused of not qualifying as 'all natural' because its chemical bonds are broken and rearranged in the manufacturing process.
The presence of HFCS in 'all natural' 7UP immediately brought Cadbury Schweppes under attack, with public pressure group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) threatening to sue for deceptive advertising.
CSPI said it would drop the planned lawsuit after the company's decision to change its 7UP labelling.
Cadbury Schweppes said: "We know many consumers are interested in a wide variety of natural products and ingredients, but also that many, varied opinions on labelling of all natural products exist" .
Some say this is just another indication that the lack of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) definition for the term 'natural' is leading to lost time and money, while also compromising a brand's reputation and resulting in consumer confusion.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets out regulations for meat and poultry products, states that products can only carry a 'natural' claim if they contain no artificial or synthetic ingredients, and if they are minimally processed. And although the FDA has been petitioned to adopt the USDA's definition of the term, current FDA policy simply states that a food can be considered 'natural' if "nothing artificial or synthetic" has been added to it that would not normally be expected to be in that food.
In 1993, the FDA said it had not included a definition of the term in its Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) "because of resource limitations and other agency priorities."
However, it did concede that the use of the term on food labels is "of considerable interest to consumers and industry" , adding that "because of the widespread use of this term, and the evidence that consumers regard many uses of this term as noninformative, the agency would consider establishing a definition."
Just last week, CSPI backed another lawsuit targeting Kraft for the mislabelling of its Capri Sun juice product as 'all natural', even though it contains high fructose corn syrup.
But the firm already seems to have foreseen the approach of a regulatory net.
Although Kraft has been marketing its drink in the same way for around 25 years, it said last week that it already has plans "well under way" to change the packaging for Capri Sun. Its new packaging will replace the term 'all natural' with the claim 'no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives'.
But despite the legal uncertainties surrounding 'natural' claims, the term remains an attractive one for products targeting an increasingly health conscious consumer base.
According to recent studies, 'all-natural' is the most frequent 'positive' new product category. In 2004, the Natural Marketing Institute reported that 63 percent of consumers have a preference for foods and beverages marketed as natural. Food sales in natural product stores reached a reported $11.4bn in 2003.
Last year, the Sugar Association filed a petition with the FDA requesting the establishment of a clear definition for the use of the term 'natural' on food and beverage product labels, claiming that the current lack of a formal definition for the term has resulted in misleading claims and consumer confusion.
But in the absence of FDA action, other initiatives are underway. In 2005, the US Natural Ingredient Resource Center devised its own definition of natural ingredients.
It said natural ingredients should be present in or produced by nature, produced using "minimal processing" (using methods possible in a household kitchen or on a farm), and "directly extracted" using simple methods.