GMOs and Natural Products Marketers — What a Difference 4 Years Makes

From large companies like Chipotle rolling out initiatives to serve only foods that are not genetically altered, to a plethora of smart phone apps that help you avoid GMOs, to states like Vermont pushing hard for GE labeling laws, it’s undeniable that the movement toward products that are not genetically modified is growing rapidly. As we wrote in our Natural Products Marketing Benchmark 2015, “We now have non-GMO certifications that are becoming as ubiquitous as organic and fair trade certifications.”

The anti-GMO phenomenon, though, is not something that has been top of mind in the natural products world for long, as some might think. It may seem surprising given the amount of press and controversy surrounding GMOs today, but just a few years ago in our 2011 Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report, only 1% of respondents chose “Not GMO” as a way to describe a natural product!

Fast forward to our Natural Products Marketing Benchmark 2015. We asked whether genetically engineered fruits and vegetables were considered to be natural: 77% said “No” and only 5% answered with an unequivocal “Yes.”

We also asked respondents what they thought about Whole Foods Market’s decision to require GMO labeling on all the products in its stores by 2018. Not surprisingly — given the above percentages — 81% of those surveyed agreed with their decision, and only 5% disagreed outright.

What’s more, according to SPINS data, sales of non-GMO verified products now exceed $7 billion, whereas in 2011 those sales were just above $1 billion.

Beyond Vegetables to Meat and Supplements

For the purpose of this survey, we defined genetically engineered foods as having had foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes. As mentioned above, 77% said that genetically engineered fruits and vegetables were not natural and only 5% said they were.

But the types of items respondents felt were not natural if genetically altered extend beyond just fruits and vegetables.

“No” was also the response given by 71% of respondents asked if meat like hamburger that comes from cattle fed with genetically engineered grains was natural, and 73% answered in the negative to the question “are nutritional supplements that contain some genetically modified ingredients natural?”

 While the above data demonstrates such a vast transformation over a brief time, it’s important to note that the shift is indicative of other transformations beyond concern about GMOs as well. People are becoming increasingly interested in the underlying issues of transparency and the purchaser’s right to knowledge of exactly what they are consuming and the effects of their consumption, both on themselves and the world at large.

To find out more about our research this subject, check out our SPINS & Pure Branding Special Report: “Natural,” GMOs, Local & The North American Food System, and please feel free to leave your thoughts below!