What Your Customers Think About GMOs

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You may think you know what customers think of GMOs—but research is the only way to know for sure.

New GMO labeling laws will be implemented in January 2020, and food companies will be required to comply by January 2022. The National Mandatory Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard stipulates that companies disclose information about bioengineered or genetically-modified (GM) food through labels on food packaging.

Under this law, companies must indicate that a product is bioengineered with a statement in text, a special symbol created to disclose GM foods, or through a digital link or QR code that consumers can scan to get more information.

Given that disclosure of GM foods will soon be mandatory, growers, ag firms and food producers may want to consider what consumers think of bioengineered food and the reasons behind their perceptions. Researching consumer opinions is an excellent way to begin this journey.

Source: “The New Food Fights: US Public Divides over Food Science,” Pew Research Center 2016.

Source: “The New Food Fights: US Public Divides over Food Science,” Pew Research Center 2016.

According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans believe GM foods are neither better nor worse for health than foods without GM ingredients, while 39% believe food containing GM ingredients is worse for health. Only 10% think food containing GMOs is better for their health.

More young people tend to avoid GM foods compared to other age groups. A 2018 study by Food Insight shows that 59% of people ages 25-34 try to avoid GM foods. By contrast, only 34% of those ages 66-80 try to avoid food with bioengineered ingredients. This type of information about consumers can help you focus your marketing efforts on specific age groups.

Source: Food Insight, Agricultural Marketing Service 2018

Source: Food Insight, Agricultural Marketing Service 2018

But why do consumers try to avoid GM foods? Research from Food Insight shows that 85% of consumers who avoid GM foods say they do so out of concerns for human health. Environmental concerns are the next most popular at 43% of respondents. Animal health and farming/agricultural concerns were each mentioned by about 30% of GM-avoiders. 16% claim they don’t buy GM foods because they don’t know enough about them.

This information can help you make decisions on what to address in messaging about GMOs in your products and how best to discuss and alleviate consumer concerns.

Source: Food Insight, Agricultural Marketing Service 2018

Source: Food Insight, Agricultural Marketing Service 2018

Because so many of those who avoid GM foods say they do out of health and environmental concerns, it’s worth examining what effects consumers believe GMOs will have on our world.

Some consumers do think GM foods can create positive outcomes. 69% of U.S. adults surveyed by Pew think GM foods are likely to increase the global food supply, and 56% believe they’re likely to lower food costs. Highlighting these positive aspects in messaging may help food companies counter negative perceptions of bioengineered food.

But consumers also perceive a negative side to GM foods, and opinions are almost evenly split. About half think bioengineered foods are likely to create problems for the environment, while another half believe this is unlikely. 49% said GMOs are somewhat likely to cause health problems, and just as many said GM foods are not likely to cause health problems.

Knowing about these negative perceptions upfront can help you confront these issues in advertising or messaging initiatives.

Source: “The New Food Fights: US Public Divides over Food Science,” Pew Research Center 2016.

Source: “The New Food Fights: US Public Divides over Food Science,” Pew Research Center 2016.

Americans are also divided on whether scientists say bioengineered foods are safe to eat. 31% of U.S. adults think about half of scientists say bioengineered food is safe to eat, indicating that many consumers perceive a lack of consensus about genetically modified foods in the scientific community.

But many consumers also see scientists as a reliable source of information on GM foods. 35% said they trust scientists “a lot” to give full and accurate information about bioengineered food, while only 10% said the same about food industry leaders. While understanding the reasons for this lack of trust would require further research, it’s clear that food companies haven’t earned widespread trust among consumers when it comes to information about bioengineered food.

Source: “The New Food Fights: US Public Divides over Food Science,” Pew Research Center 2016.

Source: “The New Food Fights: US Public Divides over Food Science,” Pew Research Center 2016.

Based on research findings, you know your company may need to resolve issues of mistrust around GMO information. In this way, research enables you to understand your customer and speak directly to their concerns and needs.

To learn how you can leverage knowledge of customer beliefs and perceptions to make better decisions for your business, contact us at results@thefarnsworthgroup.com.