Whole Foods Looks to Go Beyond Non-GMO

As hundreds of products get non-GMO verified every month in anticipation of the retailer's 2018 GMO labeling deadline, Whole Foods' long-term focus is on organic and beyond

September 1, 2013 | Source: The Organic and Non-GMO Report | by Ken Roseboro

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As hundreds of products get non-GMO verified every month in anticipation of the retailer’s 2018 GMO labeling deadline, Whole Foods’ long-term focus is on organic and beyond

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 complimentary 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.”