Many big brands are “playing a waiting game” right now to see whether moves by General Mills and Post Foods to axe GMOs from iconic brands (Cheerios and Grape Nuts) will have a domino effect, say analysts at Euromonitor International.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after Post Foods said it had reformulated Original Grape Nuts to remove GMOs (and in the process removed vitamins A, D, Riboflavin, and B12 ), Euromonitor research analyst Matthew Hudak said: “I think a lot of big brands are playing a waiting game.
"They have said that there is not a safety issue with GMOs, but I think they will follow the money.
“If non-GMO Cheerios do better, then others will follow. And changing now will also mean that they are ahead of the game if legislation follows, as transitioning the supply chain takes many years.”
They have said that there is not a safety issue with GMOs, but I think they will follow the money
Whether removing GMOs from original Cheerios has made them safer or more sustainable is not the issue, said Hudak. “In the end they are appealing to a certain consumer, and whether GMOs are safe doesn’t matter. If the tide is seen to be turning against GMOs, they want to be ahead of the issue.”
Senior research analyst Virginia Lee said all eyes are now on Kellogg - which is not returning calls on this issue.
She said: “Kellogg has to follow. When brands as big as Cheerios and Grape Nuts make changes like this, I think everyone will be looking to see what the other brands will do.”
While General Mills has been criticized by some supporters of GE crops for sending out confusing messages to consumers (…if GMOs are OK, why get rid of them, and if not, why are you only reformulating one brand?), it’s reformulation of original Cheerios was a “savvy move”, said Lee.
“I think it was a smart decision. Cheerios are popular with parents with young children and they are interested in the GMO issue.”
Influential retailers such as Whole Foods and Target are driving the agenda
While legislative efforts to mandate GMO labeling or standardize non-GMO labeling may take years, retailers such as Whole Foods Market (committed to labeling all products containing GMOs in its US and Canadian stores by 2018) and Target (going non-GMO on its Simply Balanced private label range by the end of 2014) are driving the agenda, claimed Lee.
And it’s pledges such as these - not legislation - that are driving what manufacturers are doing on GMOs, she said. “These retailers are very influential."
Gen Mills to GMO Inside: We’re not reformulating Honey Nut Cheerios
Their comments came as GMO Inside - which has been claiming victory over the reformulations at Cheerios and Grape Nuts - launched a fresh campaign urging General Mills to reformulate another iconic brand: Honey Nut Cheerios.
In a press release issued Tuesday, the campaign urged the company to take the “next logical step”, adding: “Now that General Mills has completed a year-long process to remove GMOs from regular Cheerios, consumers will pressure the company to remove GMOs from their other cereals, starting with Honey Nut Cheerios.”
Asked if it planned to oblige, a General Mills spokeswoman told FoodNavigator-USA that there were no immediate plans to reformulate Honey Nut Cheerios, however.
She added: “For our other cereals, the widespread use of GM seed in crops such as corn, soy, or beet sugar would make reliably moving to non-GM ingredients difficult, if not impossible.
“It’s the unique and simple nature of original Cheerios that made this [recent reformulation] possible. General Mills produces several organic cereals that by definition cannot use GM ingredients – and sell those products nationally – so we already offer consumers a wide range of non-GM cereal choices.”
Asked whether sales of original Cheerios had increased as a result of the recent reformulation and associated PR, she said: “We don’t disclose sales by brand.”
Green America: Our strategy is to go after brands that are seen as leaders
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about its strategy, campaigns director at Green America (GMO Inside) Elizabeth O'Connell said: )Our strategy is to go after brands that are seen as leaders and trusted by consumers - companies such as Chobani (which GMO Inside is pressuring to use milk from cows not fed GM feed) so they will hopefully drive changes in the whole industry.
“We followed up with Kellogg after the Cheerios reformulation but have not heard back.”
Asked whether the ultimate objective of GMO Inside/Green America is for transparency in labeling (what the Just Label It campaign is calling for) or the elimination of GMOs, she said: “Our objective is to eliminate GMOs [from the US food supply] but we also see [mandatory] GMO labeling as a useful tool in the meantime because we know that transitioning to a non-GMO supply chain will take time.”
While supporters of the technology argue that there is no evidence that going non-GMO will make food safer - and that there are indisputable economic and environmental benefits to growing GM crops (lower production costs, fewer pest problems, reduced pesticide use, better yields), she added: “GM crops haven’t delivered the benefits that have been promised.
“Weeds developing resistance to [the herbicide] glyphosate is a big problem, yields are not higher, and GM crops have meant more pesticides. We also don’t know about the long-term effects on health.”
Click here to read all the latest news on the GM debate.