Organic and non-GMO additives: Should you pay the premium?

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/
©iStock/

Related tags: Food, Organic food

Suppliers are increasingly offering certified organic or non-GMO additives. But why should manufacturers pay the premium for 'invisible' ingredients?

In May this year, ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle launched 17 non-GMO starches, certified by third-party bodies SGS International and Eurofins. It said the range would meet a growing global demand, particularly in North America and Eastern Europe.

Last year, chemical supplier Polynt secured non-GMO certification for its food-grade triglyceride, triacetin, derived from rapeseed oil. Triacetin is an artificial chemical compound (liquid listed as E 1518 in Europe), and is commonly used by the food industry as a solvent in flavourings or for its humectant properties.

According to Chris Beff, general manager of Polynt UK, most of the demand for non-GMO provenance for “all ingredients across the supply chain​” was coming from the confectionery sector.

Globally, it is the fastest growing clean label claim, increasing 49% over the past five years, according to Innova Market Insights. In the US alone, IRI data shows that sales of non-GMO product have grown by 270% in the past three years.

The legal minimum

Any product containing more than 0.9% of GM ingredients must be clearly state this on pack, a labelling requirement that acts as a de facto ban on GM in Europe given consumer qualms.

Meanwhile for a food to be classified as organic in the EU, at least 95% of the ingredients must have been produced to organic standards without certain pesticides, fertilisers or additives.

Forty-five non-organic additives are permitted in organic processed food. The regulation​ states that non-organic ingredients such as additives, processing aids, flavourings, and enzymes, may be used in cases where they are not available in sufficient quantities or qualities on the market in organic form.

Compared to fair trade products, this 95% minimum requirement is high. For certified fair trade composite or processed food products, the minimum required amount could be as low as 20%, depending on the scheme and the country, according to the president of Ecovia Intelligence, Amarjit Sahota.

Certification schemes such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ are for single ingredients which means they are rarely seen on consumer-facing processed products.

Protecting your brand image

Where there are alternatives, however, it may be worth going beyond the minimum legal requirements in order to protect the brand image, as French dairy manufacturer Triballat Noyal found out in 2015.

Its organic yoghurt Vrai became the subject of a campaign led by French consumer protection group Foodwatch France because the red berry version contained a non-organic flavouring.

Triballat Noyal eventually withdrew the version of the product after the petition clocked up over 33,000 signatures, replacing it with a version of the product that contained an organic raspberry aroma.

'There can be no compromise'

According to European food law, the organic dairy company was well within its legal rights to use the 1.1% non-organic aroma (flavour) in the red berry yoghurt as this was not considered an agricultural ingredient.

However, Foodwatch said the company had “taken advantage​” of the law and that consumers felt betrayed.

According to one signatory, it was a question of principle: “I sign more for the spirit and philosophy than the facts themselves. And especially against the dumbing down of the organic label. Because there can be no compromise.”

Beff said Polynt’s certification proved its commitment to developing products that exceed market demands at the centre of its processes.

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