On March 27, 2018, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the 2018 GMA Science Forum in Washington, DC. In attendance were food scientists and technologist from many of the major food manufacturers in the United States, but despite their backgrounds I was surprised to see how much the consumer took a center role during the presentations – especially when discussing GMOs.
Sree Ramaswamy from The McKinsey Global Institute said in a keynote speech that from the beginning, the benefits of GMOs were touted to the wrong audience. The messaging was constantly around how farmers, their crops, and agribusinesses will thrive, but there were very few benefits advertised to the consumer. This is especially true today when consumers are calling for greater transparency, the free flow of information on the internet, and increasingly asking, “what’s in it for me?”
GMOs have been debated for several years with some fearing they might have health issues when consumed over a long period of time. While scientific studies have yet to prove that, our research at NPD shows more than 70 percent of adults have concerns when using GMO foods. As a result, nearly 20 percent of all meal occasions now include a Non-GMO Verified product up from nearly zero just five years ago. Clearly, the science around GMOs hasn’t reached the average consumer.
What I took away from this conference is that food companies have to be consumer focused throughout their entire organization. Even if your role is scientific in nature, you have to be concerned with how consumers will react. So while those of us in the food industry might be close to the information, the average person isn’t and it’s everyone’s job to educate them and satisfy their needs.