Even though initiatives in California and Washington mandating GMO labeling failed, the campaigns served to raise awareness of the issue in consumers’ minds. And the amount of money poured in to defeating these measures by major food companies means the battle lines have been clearly drawn, according to GMO labeling advocates.
“Now that the Grocery Manufacturers Association is petitioning FDA to allow GMOs being able to called ‘natural’ . . . the last couple of years ‘natural’ was starting get a better reputation than ‘organic.’ But natural is not organic, natural can mean pesticides,” Steve Hoffman, principle of Compass Marketing, told FoodNavigator-USA. Hoffman was the communications consultant on Washington’s Yes on 522 Campaign.
“I think that that does strengthen the meaning of organic. There is a system of food production out there that by law has to trace from seed to shelf and that is organic,” he said.
“Many consumers are buying organic products because they provide assurance they do not contain GM ingredients. In the absence of mandatory GM labeling, Organic Monitor projects organic food sales to reach US $50 billion by 2018,” the firm said in a statement.
The firm noted that GM-free labeled products are also experiencing a sales spike. The market for Non-GMO Project Verified products has grown from zero to US $3.5 billion within a few years. Over 5,000 food products now carry the Non-GMO Project Verified logo in the US. According to Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Produts Alliance this logo has been one of the fastest growing brands in the history of the natural products business.
The ALDI chain, a German discount grocer that has more than 1,300 stores in the eastern US, is looking to cash in on the trend with a new brand called SimplyNature, which the company says made with “only all-natural or organic ingredients.” The line includes cereal, honey, fruit bars and apple juice as well as pasta sauce, pizza, salsa and various snacks.
"We're always striving to offer healthy options at prices that make it possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said Chuck Youngstrom, president of ALDI
The company said it is expanding its produce offering, now stocking close to 70 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, including several new organic produce items. Organic produce items currently featured include bananas, apples, tomatoes, baby carrots and salad mixes.
Organic Monitor noted that major chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes have embraced the GM-free message. According to the firm, Whole Foods now has over 3,300 Non-GMO Project Verified products from over 250 brands. It has made a commitment that all food products with GM ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018. Trader Joe’s, another leading natural food retailer, states 80% of its products are GM-free, and says all its private label products are free from GM ingredients.
Advocates of mandatory labeling have long stated that a national solution is preferable to a patch-work quilt of differing state laws. But from a strategic standpoint, applying pressure via state initiatives is seen as the best way to achieve that goal, as opposed to a direct lobbying effort on the federal level. Both Hoffman and Organic Monitor noted that Oregon and Colorado are future battlegrounds for mandatory GMO labeling.