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NON-GMO CHEERIOS NOT MOVING THE SALES NEEDLE
by Dale Buss, as it appeared at Forbes.com

Anti-GMO alarmism still doesn't persuade Americans the way it has Europeans. Many Americans are smart enough to understand the flimsy arguments about the supposed dangers of genetically modified organisms and even appreciate the many benefits of the practice of bioengineering crops.

Take an interesting but little-reported fact that has just emerged: The new, non-GMO version of Cheerios isn't moving the sales needle significantly for General Mills and the giant cereal company isn't planning any more non-GMO products after it went to a lot of trouble to source non-GMO Cheerios.

But these developments aren't being reported anywhere other than in FoodBusinessNews.net, which broke the story. The silence that has greeted them is quite a contrast to the enthusiastic echo chamber that was created by legions of news media, from the food trades and way beyond, that last month hailed General Mills' decision to begin offering its classic Cheerios cereal in mostly-non-GMO form. Soon after, Post Foods said that its Grape-Nuts cereal had been certified GMO-free.

Newly non-GMO Cheerios is "something out there," General Mills CEO Ken Powell told the publication after his presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton, Fla. But non-GMO status and labeling, Powell conceded, haven't "affected competitive performance" - meaning, in a sluggish ready-to-eat cereal market overall, Americans aren't buying more Cheerios just because they contain hardly any GMOs and are labeled as such.

Referring to the sales performance of Cheerios following the GMO hullabaloo in early January, Powell said wanly, "I think it has been fine. We have a good health portfolio and grow our share consistently."

And, Powell said simply, "No," when asked if the company plans to reformulate any other products to be GMO-free.

It took the company more than a year to source non-GMO alternatives to the corn starch and sugar it used in Cheerios; there are no GMO varieties of oats, the main ingredient.

"We did it because we think consumers may embrace it," General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe recently told Reuters. "But it is a sizable investment. And it wasn't as easy as people think. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to do the same with our other products."

But there's tremendous pressure on all food companies to submit to GMO orthodoxy though there's no substantiation of any harm from GMO crops; even the United Nations World Health Organization can't find any. Activists have been relentless in hounding American food companies to submit to their demands despite the clear evidence that most U.S. consumers just don't care about the issue.

And now that Whole Foods Markets has dictated that food sold in its North American stores must contain labeling about GMO content by 2018, CPG companies - all of which have been tacking hugely toward better-for-you product lineups lately - will have more hoops to jump through.

Activists aren't even done with General Mills despite the company's acquiescence to GMO anxieties about its most famous product: Now they're targeting the Honey Nut Cheerios variety, too.

"We're not going to give up on Honey Nut Cheerios until we succeed," Nicole McCann, director of food campaigns for environmentalist group Green America, bravely told The Guardian. "All of our followers are putting pressure on them."


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