Smart Balance says it will change the ingredients in its butter-like spreads to make sure they include no genetically modified organisms.
"I've been in the food industry for 35 years. I have never seen a consumer issue come on this fast," said Stephen Hughes, chairman and chief executive of Boulder Brands, the parent company of Smart Balance. "Forty-three percent of our consumers want to see a non-GMO Smart Balance."
Some of the newly formulated products will be on store shelves in March, with the process completed in early summer. The price won't go up, the company said.
Smart Balance's move follows the announcement in January by General Mills that it would no longer use genetically modified corn starch and sugar cane in its Cheerios.
Hughes said consumers are looking for ingredients lists that are easy to understand, less processed products. "They think what we put in our food matters, and frankly, the same applies to what we leave out."
Non-GMO Smart Balance is made from expeller-pressed oils from non-GMO seeds.
Genetically modified food -- the result of genetic engineering of plant genes in a laboratory -- has become a divisive issue, over their use and over whether products that contain them should be labeled that way. Nearly all the corn and soy grown in the United States are genetically modified varietals, the federal government says. And the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. says up to 80% of processed foods in this country contain GMO ingredients.
Ballot measures in California and Washington state that failed to require labeling of GMO products were among the catalysts for Smart Balance's change, Hughes said. "A lot of consumers just didn't appreciate that GMOs were so pervasive in the foods chain. They were shocked."
Hughes said his company was not reacting to safety concerns, but to consumer concerns. He said 93% of all consumers want GMO labeling, as is done in more than 60 other countries.
Smart Balance Natural Peanut Butter is already made using only non-GMO ingredients. The company is considering converting other products, including its mayonnaise dressing and cooking spray oils.
There is no definitive science showing such foods are harmful to human health when consumed. But critics say more time and testing are required to ensure safety, and that the process is unnatural and makes farmers beholden to a handful of seed manufacturers.