“Consumers are attracted to the transparency of the USDA organic regulations, but may not be able to afford the premium that label commands. Non-organic, non-GMO products certainly fill that niche,” said Fairway’s organic and natural food analyst Ryan Dwyer.
While the retailer merchandises “a large offering” of non-GMO shelf-stable products, it’s currently focused on sourcing more non-GMO perishables. It recently began selling Non-GMO Verified Murray’s Chicken, retailing for $3 per pound for a whole chicken, and $9 a pound for cutlets, making them less expensive than organic.
“We are proud to be breaking a price barrier by offering ‘better-for-you,’ non-GMO chicken without the organic price tag,” according to a Fairway Market blog post. “That makes non-GMO chickens accessible to more of our customers.”
In addition to appealing to its existing shopper base, Fairway is hoping to draw mainstream consumers.
“Consumers want a clear indication of a product’s contents,” Dwyer said. “Fairway is in a unique position to attract the cross-over consumer who may not have the organic and non-GMO options at their conventional supermarket.”
The strategy comes at a time when Walmart hopes to democratize organics by lifting a key barrier to trial: price. The Hartman Group’s research finds that 71% of consumers who don’t purchase organics, don’t buy them because “they’re too expensive.”
Walmart hopes to change that by carrying Wild Oats organic foods as a discount alternative to other organic brands.
While cost is a hurdle to organic purchases, avoidance of GMOs is a key motivator among 33% of organic shoppers, according to The Hartman Group.
Preliminary findings from the Organic Trade Association’s U.S. Families Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2014 study also indicate that GMO avoidance is either “extremely important” (43%) or “very important” (43%) to 86% of organic buyers.
In the Pacific Northwest, where GMO awareness is especially high given the failed GMO labeling ballot initiatives presented to shoppers in California and Washington state, manufacturers are seeking organic and Non-GMO certifications at a rapid pace, said John Creed, category manager for natural frozen and dairy at Unified Grocers’ Market Centre.
“Everyone is trying to get those emblems on their products, whether it’s certified organic or non-GMO because they want to call out those attributes,” he said.
Amy Sousa, senior research analyst at The Hartman Group, also sees “a rise in organics and products that are not organic, but carry the non-GMO label.” She predicts that these foods will compete for sales since “a non-GMO product may be priced more competitively than organic products, since they’re produced using conventional methods.”
Organic products, and those that are not organic, but are non-GMO, may also appeal to shoppers who’ve become disillusioned with “natural” claims and are willing to trade up, noted Dwyer.
“It is unfortunate for the food retail industry that the term ‘all-natural’ is not regulated,” he said. “The average consumer takes ‘all-natural’ at face value, when in reality the product can contain ingredients of dubious origins. Consumers that are aware of these questionable claims are probably migrating towards more regulated labels such as ‘Non-GMO Verified’ and ‘USDA organic,’ or they’re simply paying much closer attention to the ingredient list.”
Sousa echoes that consumers are placing more importance on transparency, and scrutinizing ingredient panels more so than in the past. “They’re evaluating products [to see] is it whole? Is it real? Is it fresh? Is it salient?”
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