CHICAGO — For consumers and food companies alike, going G.M.O.-free comes at a price — and most grocery shoppers are unwilling to pay it.
New research from The NPD Group, Chicago, finds two-thirds of primary grocery shoppers won’t pay more for foods made without bioengineered ingredients. For those who primarily shop at specialty stores, however, half said they will pay a higher price for a non-G.M.O. product.
More than half of U.S. consumers indicated some concern about genetically modified organisms, but many expressed uncertainty or ambivalence, according to NPD’s “Gauging G.M.O. awareness and impact” study. Despite the surrounding controversy, 44% of shoppers suggested G.M.O.s may offer benefits, while 31% said they didn’t know. Most consumers in the study said they were highly or somewhat interested in learning more about G.M.O.s, while 38% said they were not. Additionally 4 out of 10 consumers think they buy mostly non-G.M.O. food, and the same ratio said they weren’t sure.
“Since more consumers over the last few years have been expressing concerns about G.M.O.s, it’s time to have a dialog with shoppers about what they are and what roles they play in the food chain,” said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Manufacturers and retailers can take an active role in this conversation by helping to educate consumers about G.M.O.s, and learning which food and beverage categories face scrutiny among consumers when they are trying to determine if the product contains G.M.O.s. Marketers who wish to get messages out about their products as they relate to G.M.O.s should engage both traditional and social media for effective communication avenues.”
Meanwhile, food companies are investing to remove bioengineered ingredients from packaged products and menu items. Chipotle Mexican Grill said it plans to increase menu prices after transitioning its ingredients, including oils and tortillas, to G.M.O.-free. Similarly, the Hain Celestial Group said it spends more to source organic and non-bioengineered ingredients in order to distinguish itself from other food makers.
“If we were just a traditional specialty food company and not buying genetically modified-free ingredients today, we would have about $100 million of savings just on cost of goods,” said Irwin Simon, president, chief executive officer and chairman of Hain Celestial, during a Feb. 4 earnings call with analysts. “But that’s not what we are, and that’s not what we do. And as one of the largest purveyors of organic ingredients and non-G.M.O., and we put some great products out there, that’s why Hain has the product, the brands and the reputation it has.”Still, other companies are not bowing to consumer demand for non-G.M.O. After eliminating bioengineered ingredients from its original Cheerios cereal at the beginning of the year, General Mills said in February it had no plans to reformulate more products without G.M.O.s. Ken Powell, chairman and chief executive officer, revealed at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference that the move had not improved the company’s competitive performance or affected sales in a significant way.