Natural / Organic / Non-GMO — What's the Difference?

March 1, 2023

The food industry has been experiencing a paradigm shift in recent years, as more people are becoming conscious of what they consume. The demand for natural, organic, and Non-GMO food and beverage ingredients is at an all-time high, as consumers seek to understand the differences between these terms and their impact on human health and the environment. While the nutritional value of these variously sourced ingredients is likely identical regardless of the specific classification (N&A / NAT / ORG / Non-GMO), consumer demand for more transparency and sustainable food and beverage ingredients continues to grow. In this article, we aim to delve into the specifics of each term and discuss the relevant FDA regulations and industry experts’ opinions.

Natural Food and Beverage Ingredients

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines natural food as “any food that contains no artificial flavoring, coloring, or chemical preservatives and has not been subjected to any chemical changes.” However, this definition is broad and leaves room for interpretation. The FDA has not officially defined the term “natural” beyond this statement, which has led to widespread confusion and controversy.

Despite the lack of a clear definition, consumers believe that natural foods are healthier and better for the environment. A recent survey by the Hartman Group found that 70% of consumers prefer natural ingredients. The same survey also found that consumers associate natural food with freshness, whole foods, and minimal processing.

In response to the confusion, many food companies have created their own definitions of the term “natural,” leading to even more uncertainty among consumers. Industry experts have called for clearer regulations to ensure that manufacturers do not mislead consumers with false claims.

Organic Food and Beverage Ingredients

Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or sewage sludge. The USDA’s National Organic Program regulates the production and sale of organic foods. To be labeled as organic, the food must meet specific standards set by the USDA. These standards range from how the food is grown, handled, and processed to packaging and labeling. Quality Assurance International (QAI), a subsidiary of NSF, is one of the most recognized USDA Organic certifying agencies.

Organic farming methods focus on sustainability, biodiversity, and animal welfare. Organic farms must use renewable resources and conserve soil and water to maintain soil quality and prevent pollution.

Organic food sales have been rising consistently over the past decade. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales reached $47.9 billion in 2019, up from $3.6 billion in 1997. The trend is expected to continue in the coming years, as more consumers seek out healthy, sustainable food options.

Non-GMO Food and Beverage Ingredients

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered in a laboratory through genetic engineering techniques. Unlike conventional breeding methods, GMO technology allows the transfer of genes between different species, leading to new traits that are not found in nature.

Non-GMO food and beverage products are made without the use of genetically modified ingredients. Consumers who buy Non-GMO products often do so due to concerns about safety, environmental issues, or ethical reasons.

The FDA does not require genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such, making it challenging for consumers to know if a product contains GMOs. However, several independent certification organizations label Non-GMO products, including the Non-GMO Project, which verifies the absence of GMOs through testing and auditing.

According to the Non-GMO Project, over 62,000 products are Non-GMO verified, signifying a growing demand for Non-GMO food and beverage ingredients.


In conclusion, natural, organic, and Non-GMO food and beverage ingredients are essential to consumers, industry professionals, and regulatory agencies. Clear definitions and regulations are necessary to enable consumers to make informed choices about what they eat and drink.

While natural and Non-GMO have yet to receive comprehensive regulation, organic food has a well-defined standard overseen by the USDA. Consumers who prioritize sustainability, animal welfare, and health can look for the USDA organic seal to ensure they are buying authentic organic products.

Industry experts predict that the demand for natural, organic, and Non-GMO food and beverage ingredients will continue to grow as consumers become more educated about the benefits of these products. It is up to the industry and regulatory agencies to respond with clear definitions and regulations to create a transparent and trustworthy food system. Sensapure Flavors is proud to offer the full complement of Natural, Organic, and Non-GMO flavors and flavor ingredients for our customers.

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