It’s no secret that consumers are continually seeking out healthier foods, with a particular emphasis lately on organic foods, dairy-free or meat-free alternatives and products free of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). But should you make a non-GMO claim on your food label? The answer lies in understanding consumer motivations for purchasing one product over another. While these trends are not new, non-GMO claims specifically have been on the rise as top motivators of consumer food choice over the past few years.

Understanding the Trends
Recent studies show that claims such as non-GMO do factor into decision making at the grocery store. According to the Illinois based research firm Nielsen, sales of food labeled “non-GMO” grew more than $8 billion from 2012 to 2016, reaching nearly $21.1 billion in total sales. The percent of new products being released into the market making organic and non-GMO claims in recent years has increased significantly compared to new products making other popular claims.

According to the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD):

  • Non-GMO claims have grown the most, with 15.7% of new products launched in 2015 making Non-GMO claims vs 10.2% in 2014 and only 2.8% in 2012.
  • For comparison, 13.5% of new products made organic claims in 2015, 10.7% in 2014, and 6.4% in 2012.
  • There has been a rise in other labeling claims, such as “allergen friendly,” “vegan,” “low sugar,” and “low fat” claims.

But which consumers actively care about eating non-GMO or organic items? To better understand consumer motivators, consider the data gathered by Nielsen in their recent Steptember 2016 article titled “Reaching For Real Ingredients: Avoiding the Artificial.” Just over 50% of the people surveyed in North America designated they try to avoid GMOs in the food they are consuming. Additionally, a non-GMO market insight report released by Mintel in February 2017 states 34% of Baby Boomers and 29% of Millennials surveyed actively avoid genetically modified foods in their diet, so this mindset about GMOs spans generations.

The Mintel report also gives us insight on how consumers specifically think of non-GMO food and drink products. The researchers determined the top products to hit the market in January 2017 that consumers intended to purchase. They selected the top 10 with a non-GMO claim, and the top 10 without a GMO-free claim. Then, they asked consumers to assign attributes such as “quality,” “natural,” “tasty” and “exciting” to the products in both categories. The end result shows that, “consumer perception of qualities for the 10 GMO-free food and drink products with the highest purchase intent significantly outrank food and drink products without a GMO-free claim in nearly every attribute.” Based on this study, consumers are likely associate non-GMO claims with other positive qualities they may look for in a food product when making purchasing decisions.

Non-GMO Trends and Manufacturers 
When it comes to developing new products, or updating labels for existing products, you should consider consumer trends to effectively market your products. Since non-GMO items can be associated in some buyers’ minds with being “healthy” foods, or “quality” products, manufacturers may want to voluntarily label their products as non-GMO. Further, since over a quarter of consumers across several age groups avoid genetically modified foods, if you produce a product with GMO ingredients, you should consider that certain consumers may actively choose other products over yours when shopping.

Consumer demand for transparency affects not only the voluntary labeling of products, but it also influenced recent legislation on the issue. In July 2016, in the first legislation of its kind, a statewide regulation in Vermont required products containing GMOs to be clearly labeled. Mere weeks after the Vermont law was implemented, a federal GMO law was signed by President Obama to nullify the Vermont law and ensure consistency in GMO labeling from state-to-state. It’s now in the hands of the USDA to further define the regulations, timelines for when companies must comply in addition to regulatory thresholds and which products will need to be labeled. These specific regulations are yet to be finalized, but it is certain that they will affect both food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers alike in the years to come.

Looking to learn more about the world of GMOs? Stream our new free, on-demand webinar, “Introduction to GMOs and U.S. Regulatory Outlook” for a thorough overview of GMOs. Learn what they are and why they were created, in addition to an in-depth review of regulatory updates from the first use of GMOs in the U.S through today. Stream now!

Meet the Author

Seth Keller
Associate Product Manager – Microbiology, Mérieux NutriSciences

Seth Keller is the Associate Product Manager for Microbiology at MerieuxNutriSciences. His current focus is on the development of analytical offerings in GMO, in addition to reviewing and implementing new microbiological methods. Seth received a Bachelors degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2011. In his free time he enjoys playing golf, working out, cooking, spending time with his friends, and rooting for all Chicago teams, specifically the Cubs and Blackhawks.

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