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Gene-edited produce makes its case to consumers

Gene-edited food is different than genetically modified in several ways, and maybe most importantly, how it’s being communicated to consumers.

At a July 28 Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708 town hall webinar, VP of Technology Vonnie Estes, said the industry has learned lessons from several decades of marketing GMO products, and two big ones are being transparent and clearly explain the consumer benefits.

If you’re not sure what gene-edited produce is, it’s basically using CRISPR gene technology to speed up changes that could have been done through traditional breeding techniques, said Haven Baker, co-founder of Pairwise.

Whereas, he said GMO technology turns on or off genes or introduces them from other organisms.

Estes pointed out that while there are GMO products used in the fresh produce industry now, such as Arctic Apples, J.R. Simplot’s Innate potatoes, and Del Monte’s Pinkglow pineapples, there are no gene-edited ones right now.

Baker said his company will introduce a seedless blackberry and a leafy green product into the market in the next few years, and the plan is to brand them to differentiate them in the market.

Gilad Gershon, CEO of Tropic Biosciences, said he expects many more gene-edited products in the market in the next few years.
Understandably, consumer demand and acceptance is an important issue with this technology.

Baker said it’s important to identify and then pursue a clear consumer benefit and then communicate that to them. Seedless blackberries would appeal to many more people than the natural ones with seeds, he said.

“Do you like the pits in cherries?” That’s another thing that would be a benefit to consumers if a company could remove the pits.

Baker said while there is a small percentage of the population that wants to know everything about a product’s background, and may never be satisfied, a much larger number doesn’t care and just wants a good product at a good value.

“We have to have the right message for the right audience,” he said.

Estes pointed out that Pairwise was among the companies featured in a long story on GMOs last week from The New York Times Magazine.

“It’s good that they’re showing interest in the benefits,” Baker said.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services