The market for non-GMO foods is growing fast, as evidenced by sales of $1 billion in 2011, and brands are taking notice of the rising demand. As the debate intensifies and the anti-GMO movement gains traction, brands may be forced to take a stand on GMOs or risk falling behind.  And that has those marketing healthy food scrambling to pick sides.

 Regardless of what science says, the consumer’s perception is the brand’s reality. Scientists may sign off on GMOs, but the mess of fear and uncertainty surrounding these ingredients in the minds of consumers demands attention from brands.

According to a study conducted by The NPD Group, over half of U.S. consumers express some level of concern about GMOs. Companies like Whole Foods and pharmaceuticals company Abbott Laboratories have capitalized on this concern, casting themselves as the proactive brands that have the customers’ best interests at heart.

Whole Foods has vowed to label all products with GMOs in their stores. Abbott Laboratories took action as well, removing GMOs from their Similac Advance baby formula, making it the first mainstream baby formula with no genetically altered ingredients. Cheerios has also jumped on the anti-GMO bandwagon, removing GMOs from their cereal.

All of this comes despite the general consensus among the scientific community: GMOs pose no threat to consumers. In fact, a poll of scientists revealed that 89% of respondents believe they are perfectly safe. Many studies reached the same conclusion. As a result, critics like the University of Florida’s chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Kevin Folta, have said that gestures like these are “corporate deception in the name of a buck and anti-GMO deception in the name of ideology.”

Moves like those made by Whole Foods, Abbott Laboratories, and Cheerios lend legitimacy to the claims that GMOs are harmful. Not all brands or people who are marketing healthy food know whether or not they are really safe, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter; an increasing proportion of the U.S. population is alarmed, and many marketers are willing to make drastic changes to relieve their worries.

So what should your brand do? Is removing GMOs the only way to avoid scaring away consumers? Not necessarily. Here are some options:

  1. Launch a transparency campaign. First make sure you understand the science of GMOs, and then you may address consumers’ wide array of worries. By willingly starting this conversation, you could help consumers keep their confidence in your brand.
  2. Buckle down and remove GMOs. Maybe this is the best plan of action for you, after all. This can be an expensive transition, but it has great potential to create goodwill with your audience. Make sure to make the change with all of your product offerings, or consumers may question their safety in comparison to your non-GMO offerings.

However you decide to cope with this perception problem, the fact remains—the issue of GMOs can no longer be avoided. Why not get ahead of the discussion and take a position before your consumers decide for you?  Become proactive when marketing healthy food.