According to the National Honey Board (NHB) survey, virtually all consumers, when presented with a product with the word honey in its name, expect the product to not only actually contain honey, but also use honey as the primary sweetener.
However, numerous products containing the word honey in their names not only do not have honey as the primary sweetener, but they may not use honey at all.
"Using the word honey in a product's name not only invokes a sense of purity and natural goodness, it also leads buyers to believe that the product is using honey as its primary sweetener," Bruce Wolk, the NHB's director of marketing told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
"For consumers to then read the label, and find honey missing from or at the tail end of an ingredient list is a violation of consumer trust."
The crux of the matter, says Wolk, is that such behavior undermines consumer faith in an ingredient that adds value to a product. For example, the NHB study found that if consumers were aware that there was more of another sweetener in the product than there was honey, purchase intent dropped by more than half.
In addition, more than two-thirds of respondents said they would be willing to pay up to 15 percent more for a product made with real honey, and over three-quarters of respondents were willing to pay more for honey cough drops made with the real thing.
"Yes it is more expensive, but what our study shows then is that by using honey as a primary sweetener, food makers can command a higher price at the retail end," said Wolk.
"We need to have a standard of identity; it's not so much a case of intentional deception as the fact that people need to operate by a set of rules."
The problem, he says, is that honey has always been one of those industries done on a handshake. "Here's your honey, here's your money," he said. "It is easy to blame the government for the lack of clear labeling, but it is difficult to enforce something that has never been forcefully lobbied for."
Things are beginning to change. Wolk says that individual honey associations are starting to get serious about the issue of honey labeling, and are banding together to exert pressure on the government.
According to the NHB, ingredient lists include nutrients and other ingredients used to formulate the product in decreasing order by weight. Therefore, if honey is the first sweetener listed in a product's ingredient list, consumers can feel confident that the product is using honey as the primary sweetener.
If honey is not listed at all, or is listed toward the end of the ingredient list, after other sweeteners, consumers should be aware that the product is not using honey as the primary sweetener, and any real or perceived benefit associated with pure and natural honey may not be present in the product.
"This is not just an issue about honey," said Wolk. "It delves into our perception of what we eat, what is in our food and what is natural."
The National Honey Board is based in Colorado and conducts research, advertising and promotion programs to help maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets for honey. The board's work, funded by an assessment of one cent per pound on domestic and imported honey, is designed to increase awareness of honey by consumers and food manufacturers.