GMO labeling and private brands – Time to give your customers what they want

Private brands today are trusted, quality products and are succeeding in differentiating themselves from national brands with high-quality ingredients, customizable options and a variety of packaging choices. Many retailers have their finger on the pulse of current trends which are important to the consumer such as health and wellness, organic produce, vegan food, allergen-free and non-genetically modified ingredients (GMOs).

In fact, health and wellness, clean labeling and transparency are pervasive trends in private brand foods, as evidenced at the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s (PLMA) Private Label Trade Show in Chicago last November.

So, if the industry is recognizing these trends as important to consumers, why the push back against the move forward with mandatory GMO labels on food?

The industry and regulatory perspective on GMO labeling

The US Senate has recently rejected a bill for a voluntary national labeling standard for foods containing GMOs. Passing this bill would have prevented any state from requiring GMO labeling as mandatory and would have blocked Vermont from implementing its first-in-the-nation mandatory GMO labeling law, currently set to take effect on July 1 this year. As of today, the Vermont Act stands.

According to the New York Times, “GMO labeling may be the most contentious issue in the food industry today”.

Reacting to the proposal for voluntary labeling, Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana said: “Voluntary standards are no standards at all. This is bad, bad, bad policy.” Among those opposing voluntary labeling was Just Label It, a coalition of businesses and organizations supporting mandatory GMO labels on food. "This is the most hotly debated issue in food right now," says Scott Faber, the group's executive director.

There is also concern among many lawmakers, food industry producers and Industry groups that mandatory laws would increase food prices and unfairly hamper food producers.

According to Robb Fraley, Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto: “if Vermont’s law kicks in, the first patch in the quilt will be sewn for state-by-state labeling laws, which will have a harmful effect on consumers and the food chain.”

Time is running out for Federal legislation.  Today there is no consensus from the industry and regulatory bodies.

The consumer perspective on GMOs

According to a poll by Consumer Reports of 800 registered voters, nearly 90% of Americans want mandatory labeling on genetically modified foods.

Consumers and transparency

The IRi’s January 2016 Times & Trends report, Taking Stock of CPG Past and Future: Gear Up Now for a Year of Growth, states that “Consumers want to know what they’re putting into and onto their bodies, what they’re feeding their pets and exactly what is making their houses cleaner. Product marketers will want to answer consumers’ thirst for transparency and authenticity.”

There is consensus from the consumer perspective – customers want more transparency.

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) perspective

The list of major CPG companies that have decided to add GMO information to their labels continues to grow.  Mars Inc., which owns M&Ms, Starburst, and several other popular candy brands, is joining a growing number of large US food companies that will include labels notifying consumers about GMOs on their products. General Mills and Campbell’s soup joined the labeling push earlier this year.

What is the private brand perspective?

According to Christopher Durham: “Retailers must create and own private brand portfolios that are composed of a set of consumer relevant brand assets designed to create differentiation. Brands that are unique and compelling, brands that profoundly change the conversation and compel researchers to ask questions about the specific brand, consumer awareness and love.”

Transparency is an area where private brands can differentiate themselves and build trust with consumers.

In the same article, “Retailers must own brands, not labels. They must manage them as assets that ultimately add measurable value to their balance sheet.”

Let’s not stall the progress of private brands by taking our finger off the pulse of emerging trends that are the evolving factors of purchase behavior. Let’s continue to build the “high road” though trust building transparency. According to a Concerto Marketing Group and Research Now survey, when customers trust a brand, 83% will recommend a trusted company to others and 82% will continue to use that brand frequently.

There’s an opportunity here for private brands to get ahead and embrace the customer’s demand for transparency around GMOs in their products.

  • Transparency builds trust
  • Trust builds better relationships with your brand
  • Relationships build long term sales

The private brands perspective should be aligned with the consumer perspective. It’s time to give customers what they want.

Tags: Customer experience, Sustainability, Consumer trust

Steven Howell

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