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3-Food: First Northamerican supermarket chain goes GE-free



----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Loblaws targets consumer fears of modified food
        Grocer first chain to stock, promote 'natural products'
SOURCE: The Toronto Star, Canada, by Stuart Laidlaw
        http://www.thestar.com/back_issues/ED20000219/news/
        20000219NEW01c_CI-LOBLAW.html
DATE:   February 19, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


Loblaws targets consumer fears of modified food
Grocer first chain to stock, promote 'natural products'

Loblaws is about to become the first supermarket chain in North 
America to specifically stock and promote foods that are not 
genetically modified. The Toronto company has spent the past several 
months scouring Europe for suppliers of foods free of genetic 
modification, and will test the first product in its stores within 
weeks, The Star has learned. First to hit the shelves will be 
Provamet, a soy milk made in Belgium, which Loblaws plans to promote 
with in-store taste tests for shoppers. "It will be in the Loblaws 
store in two or three weeks," said Gerry Fowler, a wholesaler of 
organic and non-genetically-modified foods who is working with 
Loblaws.

Geoff Wilson, Loblaws' vice-president of industry and investor 
relations, refused to comment. In the past, Wilson has said only that 
the company is monitoring the issue to meet the needs of its 
customers. "We've done a lot of work with them in that regard, as we 
have done with a number of the larger retail stores in the U.K., as 
they've gone through this adjustment phase of deciding about food 
purchasing strategies," Fowler said. He refused to provide details of 
the discussions, however, citing confidentiality concerns.

Michael Khoo of Greenpeace, who has protested at Loblaws stores to 
demand such action, applauded the chain's move, but called on it to 
do more. "If Loblaws can do it on this product," he said, "they can 
do it on all their products."

About 60 per cent of products on Canadian grocer's shelves contain 
genetically modified ingredients, according to industry estimates. 
About 20 per cent of Ontario's 1999 soybean crop, for example, was 
genetically modified to resist herbicides. Fowler expects that within 
a few years, Canadian grocers will offer lines of products devoid of 
genetically modified ingredients, just as many now have organic food 
sections.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
'If Loblaws can do it on this product, they can do it on all their 
products.' - Michael Khoo Greenpeace campaigner against genetically 
modified food
---------------------------------------------------------------------

"What I think you will get here is pro-choice," he said.

For now, however, Loblaws is simply testing the market quietly with 
one product. Loblaws already sells a soy milk called So Good for 
about $2.40 a litre. Fowler said Provamet will cost about $1 more. 
The soy milk is made with soybeans grown in Ontario, exported to 
Belgium, made into milk, and shipped back.

Fowler, president of Manna International, helped broker the deal with 
Alpro NV, the company behind Provamet. He said it took about a year 
for the deal to come together. He also will help Loblaws conduct in-
store taste tests. The milk will not be labeled as free of 
genetically-modified ingredients. Instead, in-store advertising will 
tell customers it was made with non-genetically-modified soybeans.

Alpro also makes non-dairy desserts such as pudding, but Loblaws has 
no plans to import those products. Soy milk is popular among people 
who can't drink regular milk because of allergies or other health 
reasons. Vegans, who spurn all animal products, also see it as an 
alternative. Though most grocery stores carry soy milk, sales are far 
lower than for cow's milk.

So far, two U.S. organic-food chains are the only North American 
retailers to announce they will sell no foods with genetically 
modified ingredients. However, major food companies Frito Lay and 
McCain Foods have said they won't accept genetically modified crops, 
citing consumer concerns. Seagram is not accepting genetically 
modified corn for whisky production.

Consumer worries in Europe have prompted several grocery and food 
companies there to declare themselves free of genetically modified 
ingredients. Fowler, who supplies many of those companies, said North 
American firms eventually will have to do the same. He expects large 
food companies that export to Europe to be first, because they won't 
want to set up separate production lines for domestic markets. After 
that, he said, grocers will consider whether they should make similar 
announcements about house brands.

A British food industry consultant told The Star that Loblaws has 
been seeking advice from players in the European food industry in 
recent months. The consultant said Loblaws was advised to plan an 
exit for modified products, because the issue won't go away. The 
North American food industry is at the point Europe was a few years 
ago, the consultant said, with companies making very discreet 
inquiries about buying non-modified ingredients and then attempting 
to figure out what customers want. Once one major chain announces it 
won't use genetically modified foods, Fowler said, others will follow 
suit.

WorldWatch Institute, a Washington-based environmental group, 
predicted this week that planting of genetically modified crops will 
drop. A respected farm economist told farmers at a Tuesday meeting in 
Guelph that they need to consider whether their produce will sell if 
they grow genetically modified foods. Kim Cooper, of the Ontario 
Soybean Growers Marketing Board, said farmers are studying the issue 
before they buy seed, and the debate may affect their decisions. 
"Farmers," he said, "are questioning what to plant."

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