Kashi GMO Flap Stirs Debate on “Natural” and “Organic”

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When we profiled the Kashi brand in 2010, it was a company emerging as a leader in the natural and organic food category. While it started out making cereals, after being acquired in 2000 by the cereal giant Kellogg, Kashi embarked on an aggressive expansion plan to expand its brand to snack bars, crackers, cookies, waffles, pizza, and frozen entrees.

Kashi has continued to bask in the positive light of natural and organic goodness, fueled by the 9.5 percent growth of the U.S. organic industry in 2011 to a cool $31.5 billion in sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. Arguably, Kashi has been a natural and organic foods darling — an example of a brand that stayed true to its core — and certainly not one expected to be connected with controversy. Until recently.[more]

As Earth Day was looming, a small food store called The Green Grocer in Rhode Island discovered that Kashi cereals used a genetically engineered, non-organic ingredient and so the store pulled the cereals from its shelves. To make matters worse for Kashi, a shelf sign (above) posted in the store began spreading across Facebook including its own FB page, setting off a viral firestorm that spread across the social web.

The fact is, “The soy in Kashi cereals comes from soybeans that have had a gene inserted to protect the soybeans from the herbicide Roundup, which kills, weeds,” according to USA Today

Kashi quickly did damage control. “The FDA has chosen not to regulate the term ‘natural,'” said Kashi general manager David DeSouza, who indicated Kashi’s definition is “food that’s minimally processed, made with no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners.”

That just didn’t cut it with Kashi fans, though, USA Today noted: “They’ve taken to the digital streets with their anger, posting on Kashi’s own Facebook page, as well as the pages of several organic cereal makers and organic stores.”

While the Kashi case does raise a legitimate issue around the true meaning of the word “natural,” it seems as if “organic” is less open to interpretation. These days, a hot topic among both sellers and buyers of organics is, in fact, genetic modification, which is why consumers often see “Non-GMO” nomenclature prominently displayed on most organic products.

Clearly, Kashi was humbled by the backlash. It quickly issued a Facebook response, video (see below) and a press release with the headline “Kashi Increases Commitment To Organic And Non-GMO Project Verification” that included this statement:

“Currently, about 70 percent of processed foods have genetically modified organisms (GMOs), more than 80 percent of many crops in North America are grown using GMOs and less than one percent of U.S. cropland is organic.  Kashi believes that the current food system needs to evolve.      

“That’s why today Kashi announced a big initiative to increase the company’s availability of organic and Non-GMO Project Verified foods. By the end of 2014, all existing Kashi® GOLEAN® cereals and Kashi® Chewy Granola Bars—representing Kashi’s biggest offerings—will be Non-GMO Project Verified. Beginning in 2015, all new Kashi foods introduced into the market will contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and will also be Non-GMO Project Verified.”

In the release, DeSouza stated, “This commitment meets the ever-evolving needs of our consumers.”

Those consumers are anything but shy in expressing their opinion, which no doubt led to the company’s immediate response. The power of the engaged consumer strikes again.

Below, watch the company’s video response on its website, posted with this introduction: “You may have seen or heard about a photo recently shared on our Facebook page that questions the ingredients used in our foods. We want you to know that we are as passionate about these issues as you are. Here’s a video message we’ve created to share our perspective and some additional details about what we’re doing to support positive change in the food system.”

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