Kashi has not completely eliminated GMOs as many much bigger CPGs now have pledged to do—and that has been controversial with some consumers. But the Kellogg-owned better-for-you cereal brand is trying to change the subject by launching a new program aimed at helping American farmers with the expensive and sometimes difficult transition to farming organically.
Kashi’s new Certified Transitional program uses grains produced by farmers and on farmland that are “in training” to shift to an organic platform but haven’t quite made it there. Attested to by leading organic certifier Quality Assurance International, Certified Transitional red wheat is being used in a new Kashi cereal, Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits, to showcase transitional ingredients.
— KashiFoods (@KashiFoods) May 18, 2016
Only about 1 percent of US farmland is organic even though consumer demand for organic foods has grown annually by double-digit percentages since the 1990s. “We want to promote solutions that benefit everyone working to move organic farming forward,” said Kashi CEO David Denholm in a press release. “We believe championing farms in transition will make organic foods more accessible and support a more sustainable food system—for all of us.”
Kashi has faced a tough road with US foodies since its acquisition by Kellogg in 2000. There’s been continuing skepticism about its true “natural foods” chops because of its ultimate ownership. And while Kashi has tried several ways to combat it, sales of its cereals and bars fell last year anyway.
Yet the brand continues to fight back. Among its most recent marketing efforts, for instance, is a campaign for its GoLean line involving a video featuring an original song created for the brand by notable composer Diego Stocco. Also, the company has seen sequential improvement in the business over the past 15 to 18 months, Kellogg executives recently told analysts, and new cereal and bar SKUs are on the way.
Still, it’s Kashi’s credibility as a do-no-harm brand that continues to rankle skeptics. For example, in 2012, a Rhode Island grocer tacked a note to one of his store shelves explaining that he wouldn’t be selling Kashi cereals anymore because he found out the brand uses GMO ingredients in some cereals. Soon pictures of the note went viral, as some consumers complained that Kashi’s “natural” positioning implies non-GMO. Denholm, among others, protested that consumers’ confusion about terms shouldn’t condemn Kashi’s transparent marketing.
Interestingly, while the sentiment of the US mainstream keeps moving against GMOs and more big companies continue to fold their opposition to GMO labeling, new science continues to affirm the basic position of Big Food in the US: GMOs aren’t harmful to human health. A new, exhaustive report by the National Academies of Science—one of the most well respected outfits in science—concluded that GMOs are safe for humans and animals to eat and have not caused increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies.
It took two years for the scientists involved to solidify that conclusion. But it may not come in time to get Kashi out of a bind.