Can You Overcome Public Perception of Genetically Modified Crops by Targeting Consumer-Facing Traits?

In the food and agriculture industries, most biotech developers have approached crop modification with a specific goal in mind: increasing crop yield. Most focus has been on traits that confer agricultural benefits like herbicide tolerance and insect or disease resistance that are upstream to the consumer. Lux Research has identified an emerging trend wherein companies are now targeting developing traits at the point of the consumer with direct consumer-facing benefits rather than agronomic farmer-facing benefits. Over the last few years, several firms have developed these traits, including a variety of pink pineapple developed by Del Monte, a variety of gluten-reduced wheat developed by Calyxt, and non-browning apples developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits. We expect to see more crops with consumer-facing benefits to appear in the coming years, as developers aim to capitalize on consumer-driven trends and needs.

To understand activities in this space, Lux formed five categories of consumer-facing benefits, explained in the table below:

These new classes of consumer-facing traits may have the potential to redirect public perception of genetically modified (GM) crops. Consumer acceptance of GM crops has long been an issue in the food and agriculture industries, and many food companies have turned away from incorporating GM crops into their products as a result. However, it is possible that consumers who value beneficial traits offered by these products will be more accepting of these technologies. For example, a consumer with a peanut allergy will likely be more accepting of a GM peanut if the purpose of the modification was to remove the allergen.

Consumers can directly see the benefits from traits like increased sweetness, non-browning, and improved aesthetics. In contrast, the benefits of upstream agronomic traits are not inherently visible to consumers, which contributes to consumer mistrust of these technologies. Consumer-facing traits can mitigate the risk of technology mistrust because they are directly visible to consumers. While GM crops have historically had a negative reputation, GM crops modified for consumer-facing traits may play a role in improving that reputation.

By: Laura Lee