Avoid alienating consumers when going non-GMO by maintaining price & taste, says San-J

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sauce, Non-gmo project

Avoid alienating consumers when going non-GMO maintaining price taste
Becoming non-GMO certified can help brands attract new consumers and boost sales, but it also could alienate existing shoppers if manufacturers are not careful, cautions Asian sauce maker San-J.

The company’s marketing manager Misako Binford explains that the non-GMO certification process can be laborious, expensive and require reformulation, which could change how the final product tastes and raise production costs, which in turn could prompt price hikes.

These changes could disappoint and frustrate existing consumers, causing them to abandon the brand – a fate that San-J did not want to suffer when it decided to make its Asian cooking sauce line Project Non-GMO verified, Binford said.

“We wanted the line to be enjoyed by our old, loyal consumers even though it became non-GMO certified”​ in August, Binford said. That is why the company worked hard to ensure the flavor did not change, even though the product was reformulated, and the extra production costs were not passed on to the consumer.

“Keeping the flavor and the cost the same was a big challenge that required a lot of taste-testing and patience, patience, patience,”​ Binford said.

She explained that it took the firm two years to certify the full line of seven cooking sauces, in part because it had to source difficult ingredients, including honey and soy.

“Honey was one of the ingredients we had to do a lot of research for because bees fly around”​ and it can be difficult to ensure they visit only nonGMO plants, Binford said. Likewise, the company noted, 94% of soy in the US is genetically modified, making it hard to find nonGMO suppliers.

Another unexpected challenge the firm had to overcome in the certification process was educating its suppliers about what nonGMO means and why it is important to some consumers, Binford said. In addition, some suppliers had different standards from the Non-GMO Project for verifying nonGMO ingredients so when their ingredients were tested they did not pass muster.

“The guidelines were different, so we had to make sure that everyone was on the same page and met the Non-GMO Project’s requirements,”​ Binford said.

“The Non-GMO Project looks at each component of each ingredient and not just the finished ingredient or product,”​ which was one of the sources of discrepancy between the certifier and the suppliers, she explained.

Binford also noted that San-J was able to rise to meet the challenges posed by the nonGMO certification process in part because it also certifies its products as gluten-free and was already familiar with the basic idea of what to expect from inspectors as well as from consumers who would appreciate the added security certification offers.

Even though the nonGMO certification process took a long time and can raise production costs, it is worth it to provide a higher quality product to consumers who might not have another alternative, Binford said.

Plus, she said, the increased transparency can help marketers attract more consumers and improve sales. This influx also can help soften the impact of any potential increases in production costs so that any extra pressure on margins is not as noticeable.

Given these benefits, Binford said San-J will continue to make other products in its portfolio certified non-GMO in the near future. 

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