If the halls of Natural Products Expo East and West are any indication, the spree to earn Non-GMO Project Verification is far from over. Yet not all companies that source non-GMO are choosing to verify.
Take Snikiddy, for example. The brand was USDA Organic certified, but dropped the designation in 2008 after consumer research found that the attribute wasn't tops for then-shoppers. However, it still sourced non-GMO for the majority of its ingredients in its better-for-you Baked Fries, Cheese Puffs and Eat Your Vegetables snacks. Now, reacting to the current customer landscape, the company has absorbed higher costs in its quest to source only non-GMO.
"With the exception of a couple microingredients in two of our seasonings, everything is non-GMO," said Colin Sankey, CEO of Snikiddy. Although Snikiddy is not participating in the Non-GMO Project at this time, "we very much believe in what they're doing and we would welcome the opportunity to participate in the Project if it's relevant to us and if all our suppliers and partners would participate as well," he said.
The obstacle is one that natural food manufacturers face daily: Snikiddy cannot make business decisions for its suppliers and contractors to commit to verifying ingredients as non-GMO through the Non-GMO Project.
Why non-GMO but not verified?
"The biggest struggle was getting the assurance, validation and commitment from smaller suppliers throughout the entire supply chain, particularly with our smaller seasoning ingredient suppliers," said Sankey. "The food supply chain is very deep and has many layers, and diligently working all the way through that is not trivial."
Could the company form new partnerships with suppliers who are verified? It's an option, but could be very disruptive. Snikiddy partners with suppliers and manufacturers that specialize in food safety (paramount, given the Food Safety Modernization Act's new rules) and discontinuing those partnerships for the sake of a certification could create setbacks.
3 tips for becoming non-GMO, but not verified
1. Consider consistency and quality of the non-GMO alternative.
Although there are non-GMO ingredient alternatives available, don't blindly rush in without confirming the availability of the ingredient and the reliability of your source. Just like an organic food product could turn out to be unhealthy, so too with ingredients you don't vet—non-GMO or not.
The Non-GMO Sourcebook publishes a directory of 750+ companies that provide non-GMO food and agricultural products in the United States and abroad. Search online for ingredient suppliers according to product category or geographical location. However, the publisher can't verify that the companies listed are truly non-GMO. Follow up with a search on the Non-GMO Project website or ask to see the suppliers' non-GMO certificate.
2. Keep costs low to remain competitively priced.
Non-GMO is an important investment for catering to your ideal healthy shopper, but it doesn't come without a price tag. "Every non-GMO switched ingredient came with a price increase, and some of those increases were in excess of 100 percent," said Sankey. "We were able to contain our total cost increase to approximately 10-15 percent because a vast majority of the ingredients found in Snikiddy have always been non-GMO. Our costs were impacted by just a few select ingredients in the products."
If using low-risk ingredients, the process of going non-GMO can be much simpler than if you use high-risk ingredients such as soy or corn. In order to keep costs low, source reputable suppliers already committed to non-GMO rather than change your formulation.
3. Publicize the change via social media and your website in advance of new packaging.
Before new packaging hits stores, use your social media networks, website and enlist your public relations crew to spread the message to consumers. Snikiddy has added "Made with non-GMO ingredients" to its packaging, and will roll out more packaging changes over time.
"While we would love to change all of our packaging at once, we believe it is wasteful, both environmentally and financially, to simply throw away high quality materials to speed up the on-pack communication to consumers," said Sankey.