The Non-GMO Project reports that as the market for plant-based foods matures, shopper preference is becoming clearer: there are limits to how much technological innovation is too much. Shopper behavior suggests that not all plant-based foods are created equal, and there is an emerging awareness that some plant-based foods may offer no real benefits over traditional, conventional products like meat, eggs and dairy. For example, most shoppers wish to avoid GMOs – and that’s especially true in plant-based options. This means a GMO ingredient may offset any perceived benefits of a plant-based product.
Continued shopper preference for non-GMO ingredients is an important part of the conversation about plant-based foods. Shoppers are drawing a line at genetic engineering, even as many plant-based foods have grown their shelf space in grocery stores.
Data supports a clear trend that consumers are looking to avoid GMOs in plant-based foods. 55 percent of all US and Canadian shoppers believe plant-based foods are better for the planet; however 50 percent believe that GMO agriculture is harmful to the environment (Linkage Research, 2021). The Non-GMO Project concludes that it is important that plant-based foods carry certifications like Non-GMO Project verification, USDA Organic and other indications that a product is produced in a truly sustainable manner.
The growth in the number of plant-based products at the retail level, paired with robust sales numbers, has allowed researchers to track this shopper preference for non-GMO options as it gets expressed at the check-out line
- Natural shoppers are even more committed to non-GMO. 8 out of 10 (82 percent) believe plant-based foods are better for the planet. 9 out of 10 of them prefer non-GMO options. (Linkage Research, 2021)
- From 2019-2021, sales of Non-GMO Project Verified frozen plant-based meats grew 71 percent, compared to just 10 percent growth for plant-based meats that were not verified. (SPINS, 2022)
- During the same period, the sale of Non-GMO Project Verified plant-based cheeses grew 99 percent, compared to 17 percent growth for plant-based cheeses the Non-GMO Project did not verify. (SPINS, 2022)
Non-GMO Project Verified plant-based products now represent 57 percent of the share of sales of the total plant-based foods market (SPINS), a percentage that has grown year-over-year.
Despite the emerging clarity about shopper preferences for natural and sustainable non-GMO solutions, the biotechnology industry is rapidly accelerating its development of alternative proteins for consumer consumption, which are largely unregulated and unlabeled in the US and Canada. (Meanwhile, Mexico has banned the cultivation of GMO corn and is working to restrict the import of corn for human consumption.)
“Shoppers are making their desires known by voting with their dollars, and it shows up every time a new food category or trend grows. In the innovative plant-based space, they are again saying that GMOs are not wanted or needed,” said Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project. “We believe products should be labeled so that consumers have the freedom to choose non-GMO in every aisle of the grocery store. If GMOs aren’t going to be labeled, then we’re here to ensure eaters still have the right to avoid GMOs on their whole shopping list.”
In September, the Non-GMO Project is educating shoppers and retailers about the use of GMOs in alternative proteins, including both plant-based foods and the emerging category of cell-cultivated meats. For more information, visit the Project’s website.