Organic aroma loophole leaves bad taste

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

It’s legal but dishonest to use non-organic aromas in organic products, says consumer group Foodwatch
It’s legal but dishonest to use non-organic aromas in organic products, says consumer group Foodwatch

Related tags: Consumer protection, Consumer

The organic French yoghurt brand Vrai has been forced to pull one of its yoghurts after consumer pressure weighed in on its (legal) decision to use a non-organic aroma.

The brand was subject to 33,400 signatures protesting for action after the French branch of the consumer protection group Foodwatch launched a campaign last year following an initial confrontation of the issue back in 2013.

The group said the company was within its legal rights to use the 1.1% non-organic aroma (flavour) in its red fruit yoghurt since this was not considered an agricultural ingredient under organic European food law​, even if this comes from a fruit or spice. Nonetheless it said this, as well as the suggestion on pack that the product contained fruit pieces, was misleading to consumers.

This week Foodwatch proclaimed the petition victorious when the brand – owned by Triballat Noyal – said it would be pulling the sale of the product in its current form and replacing it with an organic raspberry aroma early this year.

Foodwatch France's director of information Ingrid Kragl said the fact that the company was able to use organic aromas in all of its other flavours showed that it was possible to offer a 100% organic product.

“That’s the big delusion because all the other products contained organic aromas and now they have replaced the non-organic aroma with an organic. So it is possible.”

She suggested that the company had “taken advantage”​ of their legal right to use non-organic aromas and still call the product organic, but suggested consumers who had signed the petition had felt “betrayed”​ by the major French organic player.

FoodNavigator contacted the brand for comment, but it did not respond in time for the publication of this article.

Consumer expectation

Kragl said Triballat Noyal initially suggested that the lack of fruit pieces - despite being marketed with images of fruit - appealed to children and was in line with what a consumer might expect from a yoghurt. It also reiterated that its choice of aroma was legal, but Kragl said this response made the consumer backlash even worse and increased numbers of signatures on the petition.

She said the company did not explain its use of a non-organic aroma in this product. However, if this was based on price the company may have been mistaken on organic consumer concern on price points, since comments on the petition website suggested they would be willing to pay more for 100% organic products.

However, she said: “We just said this was not honest, we’re not attacking on the price point.”

Foodwatch said the firm had made a good decision to remove the product from market, and that the case sent a strong message to the food industry that consumers would not be duped.

One signatory wrote: “I sign more for the spirit and philosophy than the facts themselves. And especially against the dumbing down of the organic label. Because there can be no compromise.”

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