- A study by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found some consumers can’t distinguish between the terms “organic” and “non-GMO” on food labels, mistaking them as synonymous, reports Meatingplace.
- Findings are based on a national survey of 1,132 respondents asked about their willingness to pay more for food labeled as non-GMO vs. genetically modified products. Specifically, the research studied how much more consumers were willing to pay for packaged granola bars and fresh apples when they contained the “Non-GMO Project Verified” or “USDA Organic” labels.
- According to the research, consumers will pay 35 cents more for a 12-pack of granola bars with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label on its packaging. The “USDA Organic” label on the granola bars box didn’t hold as much weight, however; consumers would only pay 9 cents more for it. In a similar vein, consumers were also willing to pay 35 cents more for a pound of fresh apples with the “Non-GMO Project” label. The “USDA Organic” label on the apples was worth slightly more, with consumers saying they’d pay 40 cents more for it.
Consumer demand for product transparency has skyrocketed during the past few years, driven largely by interest in better-for-you ingredients and fear of artificial additives. But as food and beverage manufacturers scramble to add more label claims to their product packaging, it has resulted in one unexpected problem: Shopper confusion.
According to data from Label Insight, 67% of consumers find it challenging to understand if a product meets their needs just by looking at a package. Nearly half claim they aren’t informed after reading a product label. Now, these latest findings from the University of Florida further confirm the confusion that exists in understanding what non-GMO and organic food labels truly mean.
In order to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards, the use of GMOs in foods is prohibited. According to the USDA definition, "farmers and processors must show they aren't using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances from farm to table." What this means is that all organic foods are inherently non-GMO. On the flip side though, not all non-GMO products are organic.
Yet consumers are willing to pay more for a packaged product — the granola bars — with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal versus the same product labeled "organic." This misperception obviously could benefit CPG manufacturers that are investing in non-GMO, but not going so far as to get certified as organic.
This consumer misunderstanding, however, could potentially hurt food makers that are going the extra mile to gain organic certification. In the minds of many consumers it's not worth more money — except in the fresh produce department.
Fresh produce has traditionally been the entry category for consumers new to organic foods. The Organic Trade Association says this is largely because the benefits in the produce aisle may be the easiest for people to understand. The group noted that consumers can touch a fruit or vegetable, smell it, and make a connection between a carrot growing in clean, healthy soils and putting it into their bodies.
CPG products have a much tougher row to hoe by comparison to help consumers understand the meaning of "organic" and why they're worth more money. In fact, a recent Mintel study found the major deterrents to buying organic foods are price and skepticism over authenticity. Most Americans (62%) said they would purchase more organic foods if they were less expensive.
The organic sector obviously would do better with consumers if they made their products more affordable and found tangible ways to show the public that the claims of organic food products being fresher and healthier are actually true. The bottom line is that more education is clearly needed in helping consumers understand product label definitions and what they actually mean. Many could indeed be pleasantly surprised to learn that all those certified organic products are indeed non-GMO as well.