Now that even mainstream consumers are asking for and buying non-GMO products, manufacturers are facing another quandary: how best to communicate that foods are truly GMO free? The two seemingly simple answers (source either USDA Organic ingredients or obtain a Non-GMO Project Verification) are favorable options. But these trusted seals are rather pricey and sometimes difficult and unnecessary to obtain.
A scenario: Suppose I own a start-up natural company that sells cereal made with just wheat, almonds, chia and goji berries—all inherently non-GMO ingredients. As a new brand with an extremely tight budget, investing in Non-GMO Project Verification doesn't make business sense right now. Aside from naming my cereal "Non-GMO O’s" or printing “No GMOs Used In This Cereal I Cross My Heart And Hope To Die” on the Nutrition Facts panel, how the heck am I supposed to tell potential shoppers that my product is GMO-free?
One option is to inscribe “Non GMO” on the package—perhaps accompanied by a kooky emblem I whip up in Photoshop. But so many of these homegrown non-GMO labels pose to further confuse shoppers about an already hard-to-understand issue. Which seals are unsubstantiated marketing ploys? Which labels are genuinely added for consumer clarification? If a soy, corn or canola-containing product displays one of these seals, how is a consumer to know if the brand is telling the truth?
And more importantly, who has the time to find out?
Trust trumps all
It's ridiculous to expect all shoppers to weed through ingredient labels and remember that soy is likely GMO, but wheat is not; that maltodextrin derives from corn, but carrageenan comes from seaweed. Shoppers can make purchasing decisions in under a second—faster than it takes to even type “carrageenan.” We can rally for more GMO education until the (grass-fed) cows come home, but a working parent with a three-year-old in the shopping cart likely won’t pour over the Nutrition Facts panel for long. This is why the USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verification seals are so valuable. Trust in the green circle or the butterfly label trumps trust in brands.
As healthwashing and concerns over mislabeled supplements grow, shoppers will continue to be skeptical of food companies—especially large ones. In this suspicious climate, trust and authenticity is the silver bullet to building brand following.
Brands need to show rather than tell that they are trustworthy.
So, CEO of non-GMO food brand, if you choose to eschew Non-GMO Project Verification, simply touting your ingredients as non-GMO won't cut it. You'll need to earn consumer confidence by empowering them to get involved in national labeling initiatives via a well-designed, detailed website. Better yet, donate to GMO labeling groups like Just Label It to support the movement. Display your non-GMO ingredient documentation online. Strive for traceability by explaining where your ingredients come from, who your suppliers are and what they're doing to farm responsibly.
After all, the non-GMO movement was born from consumers who were denied transparency. Prove that you care about this issue and they'll respond in kind.