GMO-free claims are increasingly important to “free-from” shoppers, with 35 percent ranking it as one of their top three most important claims, according to new research from Mintel.

In fact, interest in GMO-free foods (37 percent) among all consumers outweighs interest in foods free of soy (22 percent), nuts/peanuts (20 percent) and eggs (17 percent). Another popular claim for consumers is sodium-free (57 percent), with 40 percent listing it as one of their three most important claims.

Health issues appear to be top of mind among US consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies,” says Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Mintel data also shows elevated interest in the GMO-free claim, which ranks among the top four most important claims for many consumers and is more important than soy-free and nut/peanut-free foods.”

Foods bearing “free-from” claims are gaining relevance to American consumers, as they perceive the products as closely tied to health. New research from Mintel reveals that 84 percent of American free-from consumers buy free-from foods because they are seeking out more natural or less processed foods. In fact, 43 percent of consumers agree that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim, while another three in five believe the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is (59 percent).

Among the top claims free-from consumers deem most important are trans fat-free (78 percent) and preservative-free (71 percent).

“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans fat-free, no doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the US and its related health consequences.

Legislating Labeling

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act is designed to prevent individual states from passing legislation requiring the labeling of food and beverage products containing bioengineered ingredients. The American Bakers Association this summer praised members of the House of Representatives on passage of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which creates a voluntary “non-GMO” labeling standard modeled after the popular National Organic Program.

Other groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) favor the bill, which had yet to move through the Senate in mid-September. Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the GMA, said this critically important bipartisan legislation will ensure that Americans have accurate, consistent information about their food “rather than a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws that will only prove costly and confusing for consumers, farmers and food manufacturers.”

With Vermont’s state labeling mandate law for foods with bioengineered ingredients schedule to go into effect in July 2016, the Grocery Manufacturers Association is ratcheting up its calls for Congress to pass federal legislation establishing a uniform food labeling standard. The GMA is challenging the Vermont law in federal court but warned that food manufacturers must plan for its implementation. In the process, they have identified even more costs and challenges.