California voters rejected Proposition 37 last week – a measure that would have required the labeling of genetically modified foods in the Golden State. The final tally resulted in 53 percent of voters opposing the issue. If the grassroots ballot initiative would have passed, supporters believe it could have served as a step towards a national policy giving U.S. consumers more information about the food they purchase and eat.
The popularity surge of natural and organic products, as well local offerings, does give us a glimpse into the mindset of today’s elusive consumer. More shoppers are taking where and how food is sourced into serious consideration before making a purchase. There is a growing mainstream shopper segment that deeply cares about what goes on their plate and ultimately, into their body. Consumers across multiple generations are moving toward healthier choices and choosing foods with nutritional benefits. All signs seem to point toward wanting to know what ingredients are in packaged foods so an informed buying decision can be made.
According to the “Yes on Prop 37” Campaign, approximately 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves contain ingredients made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cottonseed oil. A survey conducted earlier this year found that 93 percent of health and natural product consumers are buying non-GMO food products and want more information about non-GMO products. So what does this mean for the remaining 30 percent of products that don’t contain GMOs? Will these products and brands find themselves with a new competitive advantage?
It may be too early to tell, but capitalizing on the non-GMO movement was in full force during the Natural Products Expo East show in September. The natural and organic products trade show hosted educational events on the hot topic, while manufacturers proudly displayed “Non-GMO Project Verified” seals at their booths and retailers were buzzing about GMOs becoming a growing concern among customers.
A study distributed by the “No on 37” campaign found that re-labeling, re-packaging or re-making thousands of grocery products with higher priced, non-GMO ingredients would increase the cost of food sold by as much as $5.2 billion a year. If you do the math, that would add $350 to $400 to the typical family’s grocery bill. With price continuing to impact a consumer’s final purchasing decision, one can only speculate that the thought of paying more for groceries played a role as Californians casted their vote.
Although the California proposition failed, this is a consumer movement that won’t go away quietly. Fifty countries around the world already require GMO labeling, including all of Europe, Japan, India and China. Natural retailers and manufacturers, organic farmers, environmentalists and U.S. consumers will continue to fight for their right to know what’s in the food they purchase.
If the initiative shows up on a future ballot in your state, how would you vote?