Whole Foods Looks Beyond Non-GMO

Guest article by Ken Roseboro

Non-GMO transparency will be a minimum benchmark for products sold in Whole Foods Markets with the ultimate goal being to transition more companies to organic, says Errol Schweizer, Whole Foods’ executive global grocery coordinator.

“Looking at organic and beyond”

“Non-GMO is a line in the sand for us. It’s the start of the discussion, not the end topic. We are looking at organic and beyond: biodynamic, heritage, and heirloom,” Schweizer says. “It’s about true sustainability and product identity.”

Getting Whole Foods’ suppliers to become non-GMO verified is the first step in persuading them to transition to organic, Schweizer says.

Some organic experts have expressed concerns that the Non-GMO Project label will hurt sales of organic products. Is that happening in Whole Foods stores?

“The two labels are different but are connected. We don’t see them as competing but as complementary and necessary for each other,” Schweizer says. “We see customer preference for both labels.”

As an example, Non-GMO Project verified eggs are the top growth segment in the egg category at Whole Foods. “But it’s not hurting sales of organic eggs, which generate more sales by far,” he says.

Products that are organic, Non-GMO Project verified, and products that have both labels are all seeing strong sales growth in Whole Foods Markets. The two latter categories are the fastest-growing product categories in Whole Foods, according to the company’s quarterly sales figures.

“Our customers see Non-GMO Project verified as an additional level of assurance,” Schweizer says.

He emphasizes that organic is still the priority for Whole Foods. “Organic accounts for 40% of our sales growth in the grocery department.”

Further he says, “Organic is the best way to avoid GMOs.”

More supply will be needed to handle non-GMO and organic growth

Whole Foods has a growth plan to reach 1,000 stores. To meet that goal, and shoppers’ demand for its current product mix, more acreage of both non-GMO and organic crops will be needed. Whole Foods wants to partner with other companies in the industry to increase production of both types of crops.

“To meet our goals, we are going to need more companies to transition to organic. This really needs to reach the farming community,” Schweizer says.

Especially needed are growers and suppliers of non-GMO feed.

“A big trend is chicken and egg suppliers getting Non-GMO Project verified,” Schweizer says.

Last March Whole Foods announced that it will require its suppliers to label all products containing GMOs by 2018.

“We see the 2018 deadline as a work in progress with hundreds of products getting non-GMO verified every month,” Schweizer says.

Further, he anticipates that many product categories sold in Whole Foods will be fully transparent regarding GMOs well before the 2018 deadline.

Whole Foods supports the efforts of the Non-GMO Project. “We are helping them with their verification capacities,” Schweizer says. “We want them to grow in their ability to certify and audit.”

Whole Foods sees the Non-GMO Project as the standard for non-GMO. “It makes sense to have one standard instead of three or four different types of standards, which fair trade has. It’s easier for consumers,” Schweizer says. “If you want non-GMO there is the Non-GMO Project.”

Other supermarkets may also require GMO labeling

Will other supermarket chains follow Whole Foods’ lead in requiring labeling? “Some will have to take action,” Schweizer says. “As awareness of GMOs grows and some of these state GMO labeling initiatives pass, they will follow suit. They will have no choice.”

Looking at the big picture, Whole Foods wants to provide more than just non-GMO transparency, according to Schweizer. “Non-GMO prevents intrusion of GMO crops. But what are we for? Suppliers want to bring back rare heirloom fruits and vegetables. Our customers could have access to hundreds of different rare apples. That’s what’s exciting.”

Ken Roseboro
Ken is editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report. He can be reached at ken@non-gmoreport.com.

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  • Isaac Webster says:

    Here’s my thing….I live in Washington and I buy 90% Organic products. I would consider conventional products if I knew what (GMOs namely) were in them. I am not a scientist nor a conspiracy theorist that believes GMO may be all bad. My issue is with labeling and the length these companies go to what appears to be a “cover up”.

    If GMOs are okay, why the effort and money to stop labeling for it? We label for so many other things. It is only fair to label for this.


  • Jeri Ann Guth says:

    Please, clear this up for me. I asked a Whole Foods associate, and they could not answer my question, which has not been unusual with my questions to them, lately. I read that by FDA standards, organic foods must not contain GMO’s. This article, and my experience at Whole Foods seem to suggest that this is not (entirely?) true. There were eggs labeled organic and eggs labeled GMO, separately. Can you, please, clear this up for me? Please, respond to: jlg2019@aol.com, as I don’t know how to receive a reply from this site. Thank you!

    • Laurie Crockett says:

      I too am interested in that response. sterlingjewel21@gmail.com

    • Legend says:

      If it’s labeled organic, it is non GMO. If it is labeled non GMO and not labeled organic, then it is non GMO and not organic.
      So both are non GMO, the organic label also has extra assurances.
      That’s my understanding. It’s like all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Organic is the square.

    • Kayla Svedin says:

      Organic is non GMO grown without the use of pesticides (to certain amounts/types). Non GMO only means that. It’s conventional, and likely still had pesticide use in likely greater quantities.

  • CharlaS says:

    The Trans Pacific Partnership which is being finalized for adoption by countries including the USA will allow multi-national corporations a status almost like sovereign countries and they will be able to sue any country (or State) that restricts trade, like outlawing GMOs. Monsanto will be able to SUE US if this passes. Obama has asked for a renewal of Fast Track to be able to ramrod it through FAST. Call Congress and Senate and tell then NO TPP and NO FAST TRACK for trade agreements.

  • First Officer says:

    Suppliers would just put, “may contain gmo ingredients”, whether they do or not, conveying no more information than is available now.

  • First Officer says:

    So why do you need everyone else to label for GMO’s?

    • First Officer says:

      Heather K. Terry (your post wasn’t active yet)

      I think our right to know is balanced against our right against compelled speech. Unless there is a practical reason for knowing, like a food allergy or health risk, we really don’t have the right to force disclosure. Labeling something for GM corn is like labeling it for Kansas Corn, or corn husked by immigrants or Christians or for Kosher. Since you got organic labeling,non-gmo, you right to know is being answered anyway. In the case for Kosher, Jews don’t campaign that the world label everything else as non-kosher, but had set up voluntary labeling for Kosher.

      • jazzfeed says:

        1. Aside from the 5th Amendment, I’ve never heard anyone speak of “our right against compelled speech.” Who is “our” that you’re referring to in that statement?
        2. The ridiculous non-analogies of “like” Kansas corn, immigrant- or Christian-husked corn have nothing to do with the content of the resulting food product, nor of the effects of ingesting those products in the human gut. Do you think you are addressing 7th graders? Or do you yourself believe those are valid analogies? Those are the only possibilities, either of which puts you in a completely discredited light and useless in this serious discussion. Try Logic 101.

      • Twopennysworth says:

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