When Great Lakes Growers made the decision to become non-GMO certified earlier this year, it wasn’t for philosophical reasons, nor was it to make a higher profit. Rather, says Tim Ryan, co-partner at Great Lakes Growers along with John Bonner, it was completely consumer driven.
“John and I spend a lot of time with retailers, and many times we would have consumers come up to us and ask if we’re non-GMO,” Ryan says. “We would tell them we were, but without any marking on the package, we couldn’t give them that comfort level they were looking for.”
For Great Lakes Growers, located in Burton, Ohio, being certified non-GMO is just another benefit they are able to offer their consumers.
“It’s just another piece of the puzzle for us, part of a bigger package,” Ryan says. “We try to focus on the fact that we are clean, local and year-round suppliers of lettuce and herbs, and being non-GMO certified is just one part of that.”
Certification Label Offers Truth In Advertising
When it came time to be certified, Great Lakes Growers turned to the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that offers third-party verification and labeling for non-GMO foods and products. The organization was started by retailers, and in addition to its verification program, it also works with stores across the country on product policies, shelf labeling and other consumer education programs.
“You send them all of your packaging along with supporting documents that explain you don’t use any preservatives or additives,” says Alicia Lillibridge, office manager at Great Lakes Growers who coordinates the certification process. “You also have to get certification from your seed supplier that the seeds they are breeding have not been genetically modified.”
The Non-GMO project will then make sure your packaging matches what your product actually is, and ensure you are conveying a truthful message. Once that’s completed, they provide a recognizable logo, similar to USDA’s organic labeling program.
“You must list all the crops you want certified, by brand, along with any ingredients,” Lillibridge says. Virtually all of the crops grown at Great Lakes Growers (living lettuce and herbs) are certified.
The Non-GMO Project’s website offers another benefit: it lists every verified grower/supplier, product, restaurant and retailer that has a non-GMO label. Ryan says this makes it easy for anyone looking for a non-GMO supplier to quickly find them.
The Price Of Admission
Great Lakes’ primary customer base is 50 percent retail grocery chains, 25 percent wholesale clubs and 25 percent restaurants/foodservice. The feedback to the non-GMO certification labeling has been very positive so far.
“Shoppers tell us that when they see the label, they don’t have to ask to wonder about whether we are non-GMO,” Ryan says. “Our wholesale customers have also said they believe the labeling will help increase sales.”
But is a non-GMO label for a crop like lettuce even necessary? Ryan says for Great Lakes, there’s no doubt.
“We say we are non-GMO, and maybe every other lettuce out there is non-GMO as well,” Ryan says. “But what it helps us do is offer an alternative food source, a peace of mind for our customers and another benefit to our products.”
In the wake of restaurants like Chipotle announcing that they will no longer use any genetically modified ingredients, Ryan says he believes that being non-GMO will eventually become the price of admission for produce suppliers.
“We want to be out ahead of the trend,” Ryan says.
Adds John Bonner, “We can’t be in every store our products are in. So we wanted to show on our packaging that there is a recognizable label that helps answer the question of whether we are GMO free.”
What You Need To Know About Non-GMO Certification
Are you interested in getting your products certified as non-GMO? If so, the team at Great Lakes Growers offers four things you need to be aware of before going through the process.
1. It is a big time commitment. You must get certified annually, which means going through all your products and packaging every year.
2. Any time you add a new product, you need to get it verified.
3. Your label printing process will need to be updated.
4. You need to have the confidence to call your seed supplier and get verification that their breeding process is non-GMO.
“If you can’t do this, don’t bother going through with it,” says Great Lakes co-partner John Bonner.