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GMO label requirements drive product, marketing modifications.

By and large, labels are supposed to be a positive marketing tool--touting product highlights and promoting credibility. But what happens when newly-passed legislation requires labeling to disclose something perceived as negative, in turn making the label an anti-marketing banner?

It just happened in Vermont. A Wall Street Journal article looks at a new GMO label regulation in Vermont, calling it the "first law in the US requiring mandatory labels...Facing fines up to $1,000 a day per product, food makers from giants like General Mills Inc. to regional businesses like Vermont Fresh Pasta are making big adjustments, many of which extend beyond the state's borders."

While many companies are changing labeling to comply with the law, the Journal points out that, "Some companies, fearing such labels will be a sort of scarlet letter and scare off consumers, are replacing ingredients altogether. Vermont Fresh Pasta, which touts its fresh, local fare, said it has swapped out canola oil, which typically contains GMOs, for olive oil, which has no genetically modified version."

This is another example of how consumer cries for marketplace transparency and truth are driving product development, and by association, marketing efforts. No manufacturer wants to splatter warnings or references with negative connotations on their labels. While some products, such as cigarettes, have been forced to do so for a long time because there is no total workaround for the essential nature of tobacco and its health effects, there can be a lot of maneuvering room when it comes to such issues as GMOs.

Opting to change ingredients to avoid the GMO "scarlet letter," Vermont Fresh Pasta is likely at the front end of what will become a major transformation in product presentation to the marketplace. As consumers demand more accountability and information about what they consume, manufacturers will have to toe the line or face negative marketing consequences via such avenues as mandatory label disclosures.

Given that manufacturers selling in Vermont will have to change their labels anyway, why not use the opportunity to create a positive marketing claim? Let's take it one step further: Get ahead of the game so that the change becomes a voluntary, proactive one instead of needing to react (often hastily) to regulatory changes or reputation-damaging buzz about a product's ingredients, dubious claims and the like.

Following are a couple ways that manufacturers can get out in front of the ever-increasing wave of consumer-fueled demand for accountability and transparency:

* Change for the better before being mandated to do so and/or anyone notices. My May/June column about Kraft Macaroni and Cheese replacing artificial preservatives and dyes with a combination of turmeric (an anti-inflammatory and potential cancer fighter),paprika and annatto is an example. The challenge was to keep the same yummy mac 'n cheese taste. Instead of announcing the change when the product hit the shelves, the manufacturer opted to keep quiet for months to see how consumers responded. When the company realized that the perception of taste was unaltered, Kraft Heinz ended its self-proclaimed "largest blind taste test in history" and announced the new formula. This is an excellent example of being proactive about making a product healthier and more inviting to consumers while maintaining its appeal. A positive marketing campaign touting the benefits can ensue.

Emulating Kraft's example, food and beverage manufacturers can experiment with new ingredients that carry more health benefits and are popular with consumers. Do some small-scale blind taste tests, then expand outward as results merit. Obviously, type, quantity and taste of replacement ingredients will dictate how much experimentation may be necessary. My guess is that substituting olive oil for canola oil in Vermont Fresh Pasta products has proven palatable (or even indistinguishable). Of course, there's always the cost issue. But, think about this bottom line--what's the cost of losing loyal customers, getting besmirched on social/mainstream media, and losing potential revenues that could have accrued by making and marketing attractive ingredient changes?

* Ask the marketplace about preferences, then implement based on response and feasibility. This can become its own marketing campaign--a crowdsourcing promotional outreach where manufacturers encourage people to suggest product changes on everything from ingredients to label design and disclosures. Obviously, there can be a downside to this approach because it opens the company to potential criticism if recommendations are not implemented. However, learning what the marketplace says it wants and how meeting those wants would change buying habits can prove highly revealing and increase competitive edge and market share.

While new regulations can seem onerous and oppressive, they also can light the path to opportunity.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, L/SH, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.
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Title Annotation:CUSTOMER Service
Author:Lusky, Mark
Publication:Label & Narrow Web
Geographic Code:1U1VT
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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