US cereal makers throw down non-GMO gauntlet
Many big brands are “playing a waiting game” right now to see whether moves by General Mills and Post Foods to axe GMOs from iconic brands (Cheerios and Grape Nuts) will have a domino effect, say analysts at Euromonitor International.
General Mills recently reformulated original Cheerios – arguably the most well-known and iconic cereal brand in the country – by switching from beet sugar to cane sugar and using a non-GMO cornstarch. There are no GM oats, its prime ingredient, and the cereal does not contain any of the other big GM grains, maize or soy.
The change affects only the original Cheerios and not spinoff varieties like Honey Nut Cheerios.
“It’s not much of a change at all,” wrote Tom Forsythe, a General Mills spokesman in a posting on the company website. He added: “But it’s not about safety. And it was never about pressure . . . We did it because we think consumers might embrace it.”
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after Post Foods joined the trend by announcing it had reformulated Original Grape Nuts to remove GMOs (and in the process removed vitamins A, D, Riboflavin, and B12 ), Euromonitor research analyst Matthew Hudak said: “I think a lot of big brands are playing a waiting game.
“They have said that there is not a safety issue with GMOs, but I think they will follow the money. Whether removing GMOs from original Cheerios has made them safer or more sustainable is not the issue, said Hudak.
“In the end they are appealing to a certain consumer, and whether GMOs are safe doesn’t matter. If the tide is seen to be turning against GMOs, they want to be ahead of the issue.”
Senior research analyst Virginia Lee said all eyes are now on Kellogg – which is not returning calls on this issue.
She said: “Kellogg has to follow. When brands as big as Cheerios and Grape Nuts make changes like this, I think everyone will be looking to see what the other brands will do.
”While General Mills has been criticised by some supporters of GE crops for sending out confusing messages to consumers (…if GMOs are OK, why get rid of them, and if not, why are you only reformulating one brand?), it’s reformulation of original Cheerios was a “savvy move”, said Lee.
“I think it was a smart decision. Cheerios are popular with parents with young children and they are interested in the GMO issue.”
While legislative efforts to mandate GMO labeling or standardise non-GMO labeling may take years, retailers such as Whole Foods Market (committed to labelling all products containing GMOs in its US and Canadian stores by 2018) and Target (going non-GMO on its Simply Balanced private label range by the end of 2014) are driving the agenda, claimed Lee.
And it’s pledges such as these – not legislation – that are driving what manufacturers are doing on GMOs, she said. “These retailers are very influential.”
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