Horizon 'natural' yogurt cheaper, friendlier, meaningless-er than organics

Consumers, Dean Foods (DF) discovered, are a little put off by the term "organic." A survey by the Shelton Group found that consumers believed that "natural" is a greener descriptor than "organic," that "natural" is federally regulated -- and that "organic was just a fancy way of saying 'expensive.'" So the company, which already markets and sells the popular Horizon Organic dairy line, is now launching "natural" yogurt and milk line aimed at young children, featuring the happy cow-jumping-over-the-planet logo from the Horizon Organic products.

To say that this "has advocates worried about consumer confusion" is an understatement. It's not just the cow logo, who is connected in consumer eyes to organic and nutritious products (though the super-sweet chocolate milk is, in my family, a rare treat I definitely don't categorize as "health food"). It's the whole concept of "natural," which Dean Foods has defined as "produced without added hormones, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup," but really has no federal definition at all. The USDA does regulate the use of the term "natural" for meat and poultry; but neither the USDA nor the FDA has any jurisdiction over "natural," leaving Pepsi (PEP) free to brand its new product "Pepsi Natural," because it uses sugar not derived from corn (it's derived from beets and sugar cane), despite highly-processed ingredients that are in all likelihood produced with chemical processes and grown with pesticides.