Cheerios get no lift from GMO switch

CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
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(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

NEW YORK (AP) — Plain old Cheerios are no longer made with genetically modified ingredients, but the switch hasn’t yet translated to a boost in sales.

General Mills, the company that makes the cereal, in January announced it would start making its plain Cheerios without GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. The move came after a campaign by the group Green America, which prompted fans to express their support on the Cheerios’ Facebook page.

On Wednesday, CEO Ken Powell said in a phone interview that the Minneapolis company has gotten supportive letters and online comments for its decision. But he said the company was “not really seeing anything there that we can detect” in terms of a sales lift.

“It’s what I expected,” Powell said. He added that genetically modified organisms aren’t really a concern for most customers.

Americans have been moving away from cereal more broadly, as alternatives such as Greek yogurt or breakfast sandwiches have gained popularity. That has left General Mills and rival Kellogg Co. struggling to boost sales. Cheerios is no exception; Powell conceded that sales have been “down somewhat” for the brand.

As for GMOs, there has been little scientific evidence showing that foods grown from engineered ingredients are less safe than their conventional counterparts. But their use has become a growing issue, with some saying they could have longer-term health impacts and that people have the right to know if genetically modified ingredients are used in foods.

Green America, the group that pushed for the change to Cheerios, noted that it’s not surprising that the change hasn’t made a sales impact since the company’s “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients” label is on the side of the box and General Mills hasn’t promoted the switch.

It also noted that General Mills seems “dismissive” of consumer preferences and refuses to obtain third-party verification for its claim that Cheerios aren’t made with GMOs.

The change does not apply to other boxes of Cheerios, such as Honey Nut Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, which still use genetically modified ingredients.

It’s not the first time General Mills Inc. has adjusted its products to food trends. Executives have noted that the company was able to turnaround declining sales of Chex by rolling out varieties labelled as “gluten-free.” And on Wednesday, they noted in an earnings call that they planned to renovate cereal brands by bringing such “health news” to them.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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