The Growing Non-GMO Product Opportunity
You are not alone if you have heard or read something confusing about GMO’s and food. There is not much scientific consensus about whether genetically modified ingredients are good or bad for the health of humans and animals or the environment.
But if you ask consumers about GMO’s, it’s a pretty clear picture. A majority of consumers (72 percent) consistently say they are trying to avoid GMO’s when shopping, and many are looking for non-GMO claims on food.  Canadian research has shown that 88 percent of the population would support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. 
If you need further convincing, just look at the sales of Non-GMO Project verified products, which now represents more than $26 billion in annual sales. The global market for non-GMO foods is expected to see annual growth of 16.2% through 2021, according to the Global Non-GMO Foods Market New Research Report. 
Given that many products still contain GMO’s ingredients, brands and retailers clearly have an opportunity to help cut through some of the confusion for consumers, by providing transparent products that will help win their loyalty and trust.
Understanding the Non-GMO Consumer
To understand consumers looking for non-GMO products, it is important to note that the non-GMO movement has been tied to the broader trend of consumer demand for transparency in their foods and beverages. Consumers are consistently questioning the validity of ingredient information on product packaging and thinking twice before consuming. Coupled with the concern about the use of chemicals, allergens, and artificial ingredients, the desire for non-GMO foods is higher than ever.
Concern about GMO ingredients on our health and the environment has been a linchpin topic for the wider movement. In a recent study from Mintel, GMO ingredients ranked second, behind only high fructose corn syrup, as a food or ingredient that people are trying to avoid (with adapting a healthy lifestyle as the overwhelming reason for doing so). 
Broader environmental issues are also strongly at play in non-GMO attitudes. Overall, the key reasons that shoppers purchase non-GMO products are concerns about safety, increased availability where they shop, and their increased awareness of the GMO issue. 
Another factor is the rising concern about the unsustainable nature of animal-based proteins, which in turn, has led to the growing consumption of plant-based proteins. It’s worth noting that non-GMO’s are an important attribute in plant-based foods. In fact, plantbased products without GMO’s are particularly
appealing to parents of school-aged children; with more than one-third citing this as an important attribute when choosing foods.
Important attributes in plant-based foods by presence and age of children in the household
To shed more light on how consumers feel about non-GMO products, Mintel’s Non-GMO Market Insight Report notes that the mindset about GMO’s spans generations, with 34 percent of Baby Boomers and 29 percent of millennials actively avoiding genetically modified foods. Delving deeper, Mintel researchers asked consumers to rank top products with and without a non-GMO claim as to their quality, natural-ness, tastiness and excitement. The study found that consumer perceptions about the product qualities in non-GMO foods (with high purchase intent) outranked products without a non-GMO claim.
Not surprisingly, brands are jumping on board. According to Mintel, non-GMO claims have jumped significantly since 2015, with a total of 40,000 sku’s now existing in the marketplace.
While these claims are most prevalent in snack products, they are gaining ground in many other food categories including bakery, sauces and seasonings, dairy and breakfast cereals. 
Enhancing Customer Trust
As the opportunity around non-GMO products gains momentum, the Non-GMO Project aims to be a key partner for brands and retailers in regaining consumer trust in products. The nonprofit organization offers a third-party certification for non-GMO products and is the only non-GMO label backed by international principles as a credible standard. (It should also be noted that Canadian certified organic products are verified non-GMO, but for consumers who may not have access to organic products or cannot afford them, Non-GMO verified is another good option.) The organization also has non-profit status, which gives it added consumer credibility. One in five consumers now actively consider the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly mark when seeking products without GMO’s. 
Promoting non-GMO products is an increasingly solid business decision. More than 2,400 registered Canadian retailers actively promote non-GMO verified products through the Non-GMO Project verified retailer program, which holds its annual non-GMO month every October.  The event is designed to educate the public about GMO’s and help to highlight Non-GMO Project verified choices on store shelves.
Showcasing these products and helping educate consumers about issues around GMO ingredients makes great business sense and is growing opportunity for retailers to enhance trust and build customer loyalty, as ingredient transparency and non-GMO foods become the new norm in consumer-packaged goods.
Written by Mike Cunningham, Team Lead Marketing Insights at Tree of Life Canada
1. Where GMO’s Hide in our Food. Consumer Report 2014.
2. Consumer Poll 2015 from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
3. Global Non-GMO Foods Market, New Research Report 2017.
4. Free-From Food Trends, Mintel Reports, October 2017.
5. Healthy Conscious Consumers Shop Values, Seek Non-GMO and Food Transparency,
Market LOHAS Mambo Track Survey 2015.
6. Mintel GNPD Analysis 2015-2017.
7. Hartman Group, 2016.
8. The Non-GMO Project, 2018.