As the plant-based food market continues to mature, consumer preferences are becoming increasingly evident, highlighting certain boundaries in technological innovation. Shopping patterns indicate that not all plant-based foods are equal, with a growing awareness that some might not offer tangible advantages over traditional products like meat, eggs, and dairy. A noteworthy example is the aversion to GMOs among most shoppers, particularly within the realm of plant-based choices. This implies that the inclusion of a GMO ingredient could negate any perceived benefits of a plant-based product.
The persistent consumer inclination toward non-GMO ingredients plays a significant role in discussions about plant-based foods. The line drawn by shoppers against genetic engineering is palpable, even in the face of the expanding presence of plant-based products in grocery aisles.
Data underscores a discernible trend in consumers’ desire to avoid GMOs in plant-based foods. While 55% of U.S. and Canadian shoppers believe that plant-based foods are ecologically superior, 50% also hold the belief that GMO agriculture harms the environment (Linkage Research, 2021). Consequently, certifications like Non-GMO Project verification and USDA Organic have gained importance, signifying products that adhere to genuinely sustainable practices.
The surge in the variety of plant-based offerings on retail shelves, accompanied by robust sales figures, has provided researchers with insight into the prevalence of this non-GMO preference at the point of purchase.
Natural product enthusiasts are even more resolute in their preference for non-GMO options. An impressive 82% of them are convinced that plant-based foods are better for the planet, with 9 out of 10 expressing a preference for non-GMO choices (Linkage Research, 2021).
Between 2019 and 2021, sales of Non-GMO Project Verified frozen plant-based meat products surged by 71%, while non-verified plant-based meat sales grew by only 10% (SPINS, 2022). In the same period, Non-GMO Project Verified plant-based cheese sales jumped by 99%, whereas non-verified plant-based cheese sales grew by 17% (SPINS, 2022). The market share of Non-GMO Project Verified plant-based products now stands at 57% (SPINS), exhibiting steady year-over-year growth.
Despite the emerging clarity surrounding consumer preferences for natural and sustainable non-GMO solutions, the biotechnology sector is rapidly advancing its development of alternative proteins for consumer consumption. These innovations remain largely unregulated and unlabeled in the U.S. and Canada, while Mexico has even banned GMO corn cultivation and seeks to restrict corn imports for human consumption.
Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project, stated, “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.” Westgate emphasizes that labeling products is essential so that consumers can make informed choices across all grocery store aisles. If GMOs are not being labeled, the Non-GMO Project aims to ensure that consumers retain the right to avoid GMOs across their entire shopping list.
In September, the Non-GMO Project is engaging with shoppers and retailers to raise awareness about the presence of GMOs in alternative proteins, spanning both plant-based foods and the emerging category of cell-cultivated meats. For further information, visit the Project’s website.
About the Non-GMO Project
The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization driven by a mission to cultivate and safeguard a non-GMO food supply. The revered Non-GMO Project Verified seal continues to be North America’s most trusted third-party verification for GMO avoidance. Supported by stringent standards, the Butterfly label serves as a meaningful way for brands and retailers to exhibit their commitment to non-GMO choices and the transparency that discerning shoppers seek.