Study: consumers will pay more for non-GMO foods, less for GMO

By Ken Roseboro
Published: June 1, 2012

Category: Consumer Attitudes

Jerry Young Bear of the Meskwaki tribe

Consumers will pay 15% more for non-GMO foods

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A soon-to-be-published study has found that consumers are willing pay as much as 15% more for foods that don’t contain genetically modified ingredients, and will buy GM foods only if they are discounted by 26% less.

The study, conducted by Harry Mason Kaiser, a professor of economics and management at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, wanted to gauge whether consumers were willing to pay for products that either contained ingredients such as GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, and growth hormones or were labeled “free of” the same ingredients.

“We wanted to answer the questions: will consumers be willing to pay more for GMO-free foods, and if a product contains GMOs would that have a negative impact on their willingness to buy?” Kaiser said.

The study involved 500 subjects who participated in an auction to buy seven food products: granola bars, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, beef jerky, gummy bears, trail mix, and mozzarella string cheese.

The foods were divided into three groups: a control group with no labels and two groups that were either labeled “contains” or “free of” the following: GMOs, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, antibiotics, red dye no. 40, irradiated ingredients, and growth hormones.

The granola bars were labeled as containing or free of GMOs.

“We found that consumers were willing to pay 15% more for granola bars that had a label ‘free of genetically modified ingredients’ compared with a control group that did not see any such label,” Kaiser said. “On the completely opposite side, consumers were only willing to buy the granola bar that had the label ‘contains genetically modified ingredients,’ at a 26% lower price."

Overall, Kaiser said people were willing to spend more for the products labeled “free of” and much less for the products labeled “contains.”

“We found that people don’t want things like GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, and growth hormones, Kaiser said. “If you label a product ‘free of,’ you get a significantly higher willingness to pay above products with no labels at all.”

Kaiser said this is the first study that has looked at both the willingness to pay for products that don’t contain negative attributes and the unwillingness to pay for products that contain the same attributes.

Kaiser said the results are preliminary, and that the study will likely be published in a journal within the next year.

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