Chobani’s ouster from Whole Foods shows growing awareness of non-GMO food

Chobani’s ouster from Whole Foods shows growing awareness of non-GMO food

The growing demand for non-GMO (non genetically-modified organism) foods in the consumer marketplace has come to a head with the report that Whole Foods will be phasing out Chobani yogurt in 2014, as reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, among other news outlets. The decision is based in part on the retailer’s non-GMO initiatives, which also includes requiring suppliers to label whether food products contain GMO ingredients by 2018.

Advocacy groups, such as GMO Inside, have called for mandatory labeling of GMO-food products. As projected in our Non-GMO Foods: U.S. Market Perspective report, ongoing awareness of non-GMO products should spur the non-GMO food market to $178 billion in 2013, representing a quarter of all food and beverage sales.

GMO labeling, whether governmental or retailer, could increase that share to as much as 40 percent according to the Packaged Facts report.

According to the Times, Whole Foods is also asking suppliers to produce for the chain a set of differentiated products that reflect its brand and value proposition to its customers.

“We are always evolving our product mix to make sure we are meeting our shoppers’ needs, and in this case with Greek-style yogurt we are making room for more organic and non-GMO” said Robin Kelly, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, according to Times journalist Stephanie Strom.

Chobani has said that if it wants to make its products widely available and to meet demand, it can’t access enough non-GMO feed for the 18,000 cows that produce milk for its yogurt products, according to Strom. Therefore, Chobani appears ready to accept the business lost from the 370 Whole Foods stores that will stop carrying its products.

And the Greek yogurt market is definitely hot. Packaged Facts’ Yogurt Market and Yogurt Innovation report, published this spring, estimates that total yogurt sales will grow to $9.3B in 2017. In 2012, Greek Yogurt sales increased more than 50 percent to $1.6B, taking 35 percent of the yogurt market share, while traditional yogurt sales declined.

Nearly three quarters of all yogurt is sold in supermarkets, not including specialty retailers like Whole Foods.

Greek yogurt product placement, positioning and how they drive consumer appeal is significant because the size of the market is huge. Chobani’s Greek yogurt lines, like others from major manufacturers, have featured fruit and pre-sweetened varieties. A new Chobani yogurt line emphasizes lower, 100-calorie products made with only natural ingredients, but does include sweeteners, such as monk fruit, stevia leaf extract and evaporated cane juice, according to a company statement issued December 9.

It will be interesting to see how the Greek yogurt landscape evolves and how consumer appetite for “feel good” and “healthy food,” together with GMO labeling and other regulatory initiatives, affects Chobani, the top player in the Greek yogurt market with sales in excess of $1B.

Stonyfield, a major organic dairy producer and manufacturer of yogurt, including Greek yogurt varieties, is a benefactor in the Whole Foods-Chobani PR battle, having staked a claim to non-GMO and organic attributes in its yogurt products.