Non-GMO Project Verified products saw steep sales growth, study finds

This article was originally published in Food Dive written by Megan Poinski. 

If a consumer cares about GMOs in their food, they know they need to look for the Non-GMO Project’s butterfly. The certification is granted to products that meet a stringent set of regulations that ensure genetically modified or bioengineered ingredients are not included. Many products that are not required by federal law to label bioengineered ingredients are not eligible for Non-GMO Project verification.

This study pulls together SPINS point-of-sale data for both natural and multi-outlet stores for the 104 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021. Across the board, the Non-GMO Project butterfly gave a large boost to sales growth.

In terms of dollar volumes, Non-GMO Project Verified frozen plant-based meats; frozen and refrigerated meat, poultry and seafood; and refrigerated eggs saw offerings with the butterfly grow far more than those products that simply billed themselves as non-GMO or had non-GMO labels.

Frozen and refrigerated meat, poultry and seafood products with the butterfly saw 52.5% sales growth, for example. Those that simply billed themselves as non-GMO saw 40.5% growth, and those without non-GMO labels grew 22.2%.

However, these results need to be looked at for what they are. There is still growth happening in products that aren’t trying to position themselves as non-GMO. Given the fact that more than 90% of U.S. corn and soybeans are produced using genetically modified varieties, according to the USDA, there are several existing products that cannot qualify for Non-GMO Project verification.

In the days that GMO labeling laws were being debated, it was estimated that 75% of grocery store products qualified as GMO. The breakdown may be different now, as more consumers are concerned with product labels and certifications. Large brands’ products that use GMO ingredients likely also saw huge sales during the last two years, especially during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the growth percentage might not have been as high as a smaller Non-GMO Project Verified product.

What the study does show is that Non-GMO Project Verified is a label certification that works. At the beginning of the year, as the requirement for foods made with bioengineered ingredients to be labeled was taking effect, researchers affiliated with Cornell University published a study that showed the power of the butterfly seal.

They designed the study to examine how mandatory GMO labeling impacted consumer purchases by looking at Vermont, which briefly enacted a state-specific labeling law. They found mandatory labeling had no pronounced effect on purchases, but that high-profile discussions about GMO products led to an uptick in sales for Non-GMO Project Verified items.

For brands looking to draw consumer interest, a Non-GMO Project Verified seal may do it, this study finds. And while the butterfly seems to work better than the USDA Organic seal, studies have shown that could be because consumers don’t really know what organic means. However, according to USDA requirements, products that become organic certified cannot use GMOs either. This study shows getting both certifications might be worth the cost.