Whole Foods has changed the way many Americans shop for groceries, but is its decision to create a so-called “health-halo” with GMO-labeling going too far?
The fast-growing and sometimes irreverent grocery chain announced last week that it will label all products on its shelves that contain genetically modified ingredients or organisms (GMOs). As part of its five-year “GMO transparency” campaign, Whole Foods launched
a Web page that includes its reasoning, including information about GMOs and frequently asked questions.
“Our goal at Whole Foods Market is to provide informed consumer choice with regard to genetically engineered ingredients,” the company said. “Clearly labeled products enable shoppers who want to avoid foods made with GMOs to do so.”
Whole Foods is known as an organic grocer, but it also sells many non-organic products. In fact, the grocer has been expanding its product base to appeal to a wider base of customers. Last year, the chain launched a campaign
to try to get rid of the “whole paycheck” label used somewhat affectionately by customers and bemoaned by its co-CEO John Mackey.
“It would be a lot easier if the media would stop repeating Whole Paycheck, Whole Paycheck,” he said
at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal in 2011.
Whole Foods’ GMO labeling campaign might be an attempt to move even further from the expensive stereotype.
Groups are already taking sides on the issue. The Cornucopia Institute, an organization that focused on educating the public on sustainable and organic agriculture practices, called it “fantastic.” The Grocery Manufactures Association said any labeling will be misleading.
“These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the grocery organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement.
But Whole Foods is likely to be the first grocer to start an already developing trend. The New York Times reported
that Walmart and 19 of the other largest food companies are considered GMO labeling.
Also, surveys show that most Americans favor labeling GMOs, but it’s not a slam dunk. Voters in California turned down Proposition 37 that would have required labeling of GMOS. Giant bioengineering companies Monsanto and Dupont fought the campaign.
The issue has a strong online following, and companies such as Kashi have seen their online properties attacked by the anti-GMO movement. Kashi is a product of the Kellogg Company, a huge contributor to the anti-labeling movement.
wrapped up the argument with its take on the story
, saying, “It’s clever marketing … for a company still trying to overcome its ‘Whole Paycheck’ image. Transparency is something worth paying for these days.”
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.