The push to develop more non-GMO foods continues to accelerate in step with growing awareness among American consumers, who increasingly seek out and purchase products that they believe contribute to a better environment. The definition of health and wellness has evolved beyond diet and exercise, according to The NPD Group, to a new level of personalization. “Now they’re looking for personal plans that meet their own specific interests and, more importantly, their lifestyles,” says Darren Seifer, NPD Group’s food and beverage analyst.

This lifestyle trend has shifted to a renewed emphasis on demand for “wholesome” foods. And with consumer awareness of GMOs rising, the end result is having a larger impact on the food industry, says Kathy Sargent, market director, bakery, for Corbion, based in Lenexa, Kansas. “Consumers are buying more non-GMO products than they did in the past. So, food producers are working to reformulate products to contain non-GMO ingredients.”

Why this matters to food commissaries is that more demand means tighter supply. Food producers are working rapidly to bring non-GMO ingredients and products into the pipeline. If your goal is going GMO-free, specialty ancient grains and modern wheat offer solutions. Ancient grains are also gluten-free.

Bakers may choose from a wide range of grains, including Kamut, farro, spelt, triticale, rye and oats. Gluten-free options include corn, rice, millet, sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, teff and buckwheat. Used as a topping, whole grains of larger particle size offer visual appeal and artisanal quality to bread.

“If you want to make something whole grain or multigrain, there are a number of ways to include these products that don’t have to just be in the dough,” explains Brian Strouts, vice-president of baking and food technical services at AIB International. “Going with something larger as a topical helps to meet that demand,  and it really helps to give it the visual your customers may be looking for.” 

Ardent Mills recently launched its Great Plains Quinoa brand with the largest quinoa growing network in North America. Quinoa farmer Joe Dutcheshen explained they are excited about the relationship with Ardent Mills. “We have seen the positive impact their commitment to double organic wheat acres has had on North American farmers and the organic wheat supply and know that level of commitment will have a similar impact in the quinoa market.”

Dutcheshen began evaluating different varieties of South American quinoa seeds on his family farm in 1992. Ardent Mills began promoting quinoa as the star of its ancient grains line in 2007. Ardent Mills Great Plains Quinoa line includes seeds, whole grain flour, flakes, crisps, custom multigrain blends and mixes.

Leading the movement in ancient grains, quinoa usage has shown double-digit growth in entrées, sides and kids’ menus, according to a Technomic MenuMonitor report. From 2012 to 2016, sales from products containing quinoa have grown sevenfold. Quinoa is increasingly included in nutrition bars, ready-to-eat cereal, oatmeal, gluten-free foods, crackers, prepared dinners and side dishes.

Mike Veal, Ardent Mills vice president of marketing, explains that introducing locally grown quinoa under the new Ardent Mills Great Plains Quinoa brand will help clearly define its quinoa as grown in North America, “along with all the assurances that are available from Ardent Mills. Assurances include supporting North American family farms in the program and our commitment to food safety, quality, supply and transparency.”

In specialty ingredients, Bay State Milling Company recently acquired CleanDirt Farm, a leading organic and conventional millet sourcing and processing operation in Sterling, Colorado. CleanDirt Farm has been an “essential connection” in the Bay State Milling supply chain for more than 10 years and is a multi-generational, family-owned enterprise built on the homestead of Rob Knowles and Meryl Stern, who ventured into the business to promote millet as a nutritious and sustainable ancient grain and to raise industry processing standards. Bay State Milling will work to integrate the local team and transition the business into its growing array of specialty plant-based supply chains. Bay State Milling offers the hulled white proso, whole white proso and whole red proso millets in both conventional and organic varieties and certified non-GMO and gluten free flours.

“We are excited to add our product development and varietal development capabilities to this supply chain to expand the market for millet — a tasty, nutrition-packed, resilient, and affordable grain that more consumers should enjoy,” says Peter Levangie, president and chief executive officer for Bay State Milling.

The Non-GMO Project 

A number of leading companies are working diligently to address increased demand for non-GMO ingredients.

“Food producers need to consider things like reformulation costs to convert to non-GMO ingredients, sourcing the ingredients and acquiring the Non-GMO Project verification, and make sure they are taking the appropriate measures to isolate GMO and non-GMO ingredients and finished products in their manufacturing plants,” says Sargent. “At Corbion, we understand the need to meet consumer demand for non-GMO products and have a team of experts who can help take GMOs out of formulations and off of labels. That’s why we offer a variety of non-GMO bakery ingredients that deliver the existing functionality of their GMO counterparts, while being suitable for use in non-GMO formulations.”

Cargill recently received Non-GMO Project Verification of the following food ingredients: Stevia sweeteners, dry corn (mill, grits, flour), glucose heirloom syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrin, maltodextrin, modified food starch, native starch, mid oleic sunflower oil, Clear Valley High Oleic Canola Oil, soybean oil, chicory inulin2, and erythritol. “Non-GMO Project Verification remains the most trusted emblem for consumers seeking non-GMO food options,” says Lea Buerman, Cargill food safety, quality and regulatory manager. “We continue to work closely with the Non-GMO Project and hope to have even more Cargill ingredients verified in the near future.”

Furthering its commitment, Cargill has announced an identity preservation process. Cargill’s KnownOrigins process delivers transparency so food and beverage manufacturers can efficiently source the ingredients they need to deliver non-GMO products to consumers. It features robust testing, approval and evaluation protocols that enable food and beverage manufacturers to make non-GMO claims with the confidence of knowing that Cargill’s non-GMO ingredients meet the agreed-to standard.

According to Laura Hauser, marketing manager for Knouse Foods, there are three key issues that food producers are facing when it comes to non-GMO ingredients and the demand for fully non-GMO products: availability of non-GMO ingredients; length of time and cost of revising formulas/labels and moving through inventory in warehouses; and clear communication to the trade about updated product changes and how to bring attention to updated formulas/ingredients.

According to Knouse Foods’ proprietary research of more than 300 foodservice professionals, 30 percent of operators aim to purchase foods that contain pure cane sugar. 

Knouse helps address market demand by offering a full line of premium/clean label (non-GMO) products to include apple sauce, apple butter and fruit fillings/toppings. “We are working on a full media plan to help our customers learn about our commitment to providing better-for-you products,” Hauser says.