Press Clips: GMOs and Consumer Behavior

For many Americans, GMOs are like monsters under the bed. They don’t exactly know what GMOs are, but they’re worried about them.

This sentiment has already influenced shopping habits, according to a recent write-up on hartbeat, the newsletter of The Hartman Group (HG), a consumer research firm.

“There is some gap between what consumers aspire to and what they actually buy, but the trend is undeniable,” HG writes. “People are becoming aware of GMOs, and even though many do not know what they are, a sizable and growing proportion of shoppers is avoiding them.”

Provided by HG, here are a few relevant statistics on consumers and GMOs:

  • About 19 percent of shoppers look for foods labeled non-GMO, trumping the 16 percent who look for organic labels.

  • About 33 percent of consumers deliberately avoid GMOs, and that number is growing quickly. Only about 15 percent of consumers avoided GMOs in 2007. The growth rate is faster than any avoided ingredient aside from soy isoflavones.

  • Of consumers who avoid GMOs, about 70 percent are concerned about their health and well-being, about 50 percent want to know what goes into their food, about 36 percent are concerned about environmental effects and about 30 percent don’t want to support companies that use GMOs.

  • About 24 percent of consumers say that they don’t know enough about GMOs.

Considering the figures, HG recommends consumer packaged goods companies take action.

“A vacuum of uncertainty is building around GMOs, rooted in concerns relating to health, the environment and a basic lack of knowledge,” HG writes. “That makes it essential that food companies speak now, before distrust builds further and people start giving credence to a set of facts they have decided are relevant. The lack of communication only feeds suspicions.”

One man who understands the importance of visibility and communication is Mike Kirban, the CEO and co-founder of coconut water brand Vita Coco. Whether it’s a hard-hitting interview with BevNET’s own Jeffrey Klineman or merely chatting with CBS News, as he did in a recent interview, Kirban is no stranger to the press.

In the CBS interview, Kirban talked about his strategy in bringing Vita Coco to its current state at the pinnacle of the coconut water category. The brand has reached nearly $130 million in sales, growing by almost 35 percent over the last 52 weeks ending on Jan. 26, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

“I’m definitely an ‘I’m going to prove you wrong’ kind of guy and Vita Coco’s success is the greatest example of that,” Kirban said in the interview. “So many people doubted coconut water would become as popular as it is, and I’m proud we helped change that perception.”

Kirban touted that all the employees of the company are shareholders. This has given the employees further incentive to succeed and also encouraged them to stick around. He said that many of the company’s employees have been with the brand for five or more years. He also advised college students to strive for concepts and passion.

“A university education won’t make or break an entrepreneur with great ideas and the passion to realize them,” he said. “Corporate America places a great emphasis on education and credentials, but for high-growth businesses, it’s more about the big idea and passion versus the list of degrees.”

While some in the industry wonder if the coconut water category’s growth figures are sustainable, the bottled water business should have no such problems, according to Gary Hemphill, managing director of consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corp.

In a story with Plastics News, Hemphill predicts that bottled water consumption will eventually trump carbonated soft drink consumption.

“That’s not going to happen this year, and it’s not going to happen next year,” Hemphill said. “But by 2017, 2018, something like that, it seems inevitable that that’s going to happen.”

While most of the growth from bottled water won’t sprout from the offices of Sony, the electronics company has begun marketing a water-related product that’s, well, pretty damn cool. Hoping to spread awareness of its waterproof MP3 player for swimmers, Sony partnered with DraftFCB, an ad group in Auckland, New Zealand. This led to a clever marketing scheme for “The Bottled Walkman.”

“What does a company do to convince potential customers that its product is genuinely waterproof?” writes Paul Sawers of The Next Web. “Well, aside from saying so on the packaging, it can sell the product already immersed inside a bottle of water.”