Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Downer's Grove, Ill., continued its impressive streak of innovation with the recent launch of six new bread items, including the company's first foray into "natural" breads. The company's new Hearty & Delicious breads contain no artificial colors, flavors or chemical preservatives.
Sara Lee Hearty & Delicious All-Natural 100% Whole Grain breads are available in three varieties: 100% Whole Wheat, 100% Whole Wheat with Honey and 100% Multi-Grain.
Besides a lack of artificial ingredients, the company says the breads ingredients undergo minimal processing. In addition, the products do not contain high fructose corn syrup and are formulated using only whole wheat or whole grain flour, contributing 22 grams of whole grains per slice.
As a leading bread manufacturer in the United States, Sara Lee"s decision to market an all-natural bread line underscores the momentum behind organic bakery products. For years, the growth of organic and natural bakery foods has been exhibited through annual double-digit sales increases and the creeping of what once were niche products onto mainstream supermarket shelves. As the popularity of these products continues to grow, so does the marriage of the terms "natural" and "organic."
Rarely is one used without the other, especially among consumers, despite the enormous differences between the two. The most glaring difference is the lack of definition or rules regarding the labeling of bakery foods as "natural." Ten years ago, this was not a problem because the only bakeries touting "natural" products were small, niche manufacturers content with marketing their products to a small, self-policing segment of society.
Now that Sara Lee has thrown its hat into the "natural" ring, exposing the term to the majority of shoppers in America, the need for an official, Food and Drug Administration-approved definition is clear. Unfortunately, FDA has not acted on the issue, despite first requesting comments on the issue more than 12 years ago. FDA declined to comment for this story.
Earlier this year, The Sugar Association, Washington, D.C., petitioned FDA to establish rules regarding the definition and labeling of "natural" products. The highly publicized petition seeks to eliminate any ambiguity and misuse of "natural" claims by food and beverage manufacturers. The Sugar Association has a significant interest in an established "natural" definition to distinguish sugar from increasingly popular artificial sweeteners.
Since The Sugar Association submitted the petition in February, little action has taken place, causing confusion among consumers and bakers. Unlike whole grain labeling, where an established template for labeling guidelines does not exist, defining "natural" appears to be an easier task, especially considering the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) already has defined the term for use on meat and poultry. The USDA defines "natural" as: "A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural. The label must explain the use of the term natural (i.e., no added colorings or artificial ingredients, minimally processed)."
Guidelines similar to USDA's will serve the food industry well by decreasing consumer confusion over how products are labeled. However, FDA has shown little urgency to address this, or other labeling issues in the interest of alleviating consumer confusion.