You probably get many more customer questions about genetically modified foods than you did even a few years ago.
That means state and national labeling efforts have raised awareness, and Monsanto and the gang’s once-shrouded practices are being exposed, leading legions of consumers to question what’s really in their food. However, without mandatory GMO product labeling, a lot of gray area remains. This is where you can step in. By being as transparent as possible about your GMO policies and the foods you stock, you spread a meaningful message and likely will land loyal customers for years to come.
Mark risky products. We call out all products that could contain GMOs. We put a GMO Alert tag on anything made with soy, canola, corn or another GM crop that isn’t certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified or doesn’t specifically have non-GMO on the package. Customers love it. Some buy the tagged products, but they like that they have a choice.
Question manufacturers. There’s an astounding amount of confusion—even among manufacturers—about how GMO testing must be done. For example, some brands will say their products don’t have GMOs, yet they contain [common GM ingredient] citric acid. So I’ll ask if it was tested before processing, and they don’t understand what that means. Keep asking the tough questions and pushing for factual answers.
Offer educational media. We bought 70 copies of the documentary Genetic Roulette and sold it at the checkouts for $20. Shoppers could return the DVD after watching to receive a $20 store credit—but almost none did, which probably means they shared it with others. Don’t do promos like this all the time or shoppers won’t notice, but the occasional offer can have major impact.
–Stephen Trinkaus, Owner and general manager of Terra Organica in Bellingham, Wash.
GMO Labeling Activist
Separate organic from natural. Organic means non-GMO; natural does not. But shoppers don’t always realize this, so it can confuse them when natural products are mixed in with organic foods. Keep organic items separate from nonorganic, or at least call out organic food with clear signage.
Connect with your local non-GMO group. Visit righttoknow-gmo.org. You can scroll over a map of the U.S., click on your state and find a rundown of current GMO legislation and info about the state’s coalition, including a contact for the group’s leader, who can help you get involved. From there, you can start planning events, education sessions, etc., to share your anti-GMO ideals with the staff and your shoppers.
Get political. Too often, the government thinks all retailers are against GMO labeling because so many mainstream stores and supermarkets oppose it. The opposition has convinced legislators that labeling will be bad for business, even though there’s no proof of that. The burden will fall on manufacturers, not stores. More retailers need to attend legislative hearings to convey this notion and to say they support labeling. You can also write letters to your representatives.
–Tara Cook-Littman, Director of GMO Free CT in Fairfield, Conn., Non-GMO Project
Use Non-GMO Project shelf talkers. Calling out Non-GMO Project Verified products might be easier than tagging high-risk foods, because we’ve done the due diligence for you. Also, highlighting the positive can help you transition away from carrying GMOs without losing too many sales on iffy items in the process. At nongmoproject.org, we offer shelf talkers you can print in bulk, along with a continually updated list of verified products.
Train staff about GMOs. Even if you have a strict GMO policy or shelf talkers all over the store, you’ve got nothing if your staff can’t answer customer questions. Make sure all employees know what GMOs are, what the Non-GMO Project Verified label means and where to find additional information. We offer staff trainings year-round for a small fee, and stores that register for Non-GMO Month can access customizable training materials for free.
Tell your story. Make sure your customers—and potential shoppers—know what you’re doing to promote GMO transparency. Put together basic information about your commitment and send out press releases. Include articles in your newsletter that address your non-GMO efforts.
–Chris Keefe, Retailer programs manager, Non-GMO Project in Bellingham, Wash.