GMO, organic foods, consumers
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What do consumers know about foods containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? How does GMO awareness impact retail spending decisions? These are just two questions researchers are asking themselves—and putting directly to consumers in a series of new surveys.

The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., says labeling of genetically-modified (GMO) foods is at the center of national debate—but that the decision to buy or not buy non-GMO foods often is based on price. A recent NPD food market research study on GMO awareness and concern among consumers finds that 67% of all primary grocery shoppers are not willing to pay a higher price for non-GMO foods.

NPD says more than half of U.S. consumers express some level of concern about genetically-modified organisms, but when asked to describe GMOs, many primary grocery shoppers are unclear, which may be a factor in their unwillingness to pay a higher price for non-GMO foods, finds the NPD study entitled “Gauging GMO Awareness and Impact.”  Also unclear to consumers is the prevalence of GMO vs. non-GMO items at the grocers. Four out of 10 primary grocery shoppers either feel that they buy non-GMOs mostly while the same ratio of consumers say they are not sure. 

What many grocery shoppers appear to be certain of is that they do not want to pay more for non-GMO foods and beverages, reports NPD. There is, however, a subset of grocery shoppers who are aware and concerned about GMOs who are willing to pay more, which amounts to about 11% of all primary shoppers. Additionally, half of people who primarily shop specialty stores are willing to pay more for non-GMO products, according to the NPD food and beverage market research.

“Since more consumers over the last few years have been expressing concerns about GMOs, it’s time to have a dialog with shoppers about what they are and what roles they play in the food chain, ” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Manufacturers and retailers can take an active role in this conversation by helping to educate consumers about GMOs, and learning which food and beverage categories face scrutiny among consumers when they are trying to determine if the product contains GMOs.”

Approaching the same topic from a slightly different angle was the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Brattleboro, Vt. The group says it included some GMO-related questions in a survey of 1,200 households nationwide with at least one child under 18. This summer saw OTA release that consumer research in its “U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs 2014 Tracking Study.”

Avoiding GMOs for themselves or their children, is an increasingly important reason why parents choose organic food, says OTA. Almost 25% of parents buying organic said that—wanting to steer clear of genetically modified foods—is now one of their top reasons for selecting organic.

OTA says it has conducted its “Attitudes and Beliefs” study for four years and that non-GMO sentiment has risen dramatically from the 16% of consumers who said the same in 2013. Of the 15 reasons for buying organic that parents were asked to rate, not buying GMOs showed the biggest jump by far from attitudes a year ago.

“Each year we see an increase in parents’ self-described knowledge of organic topics. Parents have become more informed about the benefits of organic, and they have also become more aware of the questions surrounding GMOs,” says OTA CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha. “That heightened awareness is being reflected in their buying decisions.”

OTA says organic product demand is booming, with U.S. sales jumping to a record $35.1 billion in 2013, a 12% hike from the previous year. OTA’s survey shows that eight out of 10 American families now make organic products a part of their grocery list if not all the time, at least sometimes.

In other findings from the same survey, OTA says price has become less of a barrier to purchasing organic products. Fifty-one percent of those parents surveyed said the cost of organic products was one of the key factors in limiting their organic purchases, a decline from the previous year in which 62% said organic items were sometimes too expensive for their household budget.

“Parents in charge of the household budget recognize the benefits of organic, and are willing to pay a little more to know that they are giving their families the highest quality and most healthy products being offered in their local store,” says Batcha.

According to the study, families who include organic products on their grocery list on a regular basis spend an average of $125 a week at the grocery store, compared to $110 a week for those not buying any organic items. However, despite the higher tab, almost half of the parents polled—47%—said that half or more of their weekly grocery purchases are organic, while close to 10% said they buy only organic.

OTA says organic food products have become more mainstream in recent years. No longer just found in niche specialty stores, supermarkets are now the go-to source for 70% of households buying organic. Lack of availability of organic products was cited by just 12% as a reason for not buying organic, down from last year’s 21% who claimed that was a barrier. A tiny percentage of those surveyed—three percent—said that organic products were not available where they shopped.

OTA says partnered with KIWI Magazine to conduct its study in late February and early March.