No GMOs in the New Year: Whole Foods Kisses Chobani Goodbye


Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM) and Chobani Inc. might seem like a vendor match made in heaven, but these two companies are parting ways, and it is all thanks to those pesky little things known as genetically modified organisms. Sources told The Wall Street Journal that Whole Foods is planning to stop selling Chobani yogurt by early 2014 so that it can make room for more organic and GMO-free yogurt brands.

GMOs are plants or animals with genetic material that has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. The technology combines DNA from different species and creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, the Journal reports. It is still up for debate whether GMOs in food are environmentally safe as well as safe for human consumption in the long term, but Whole Foods has promised to remove all foods containing GMOs by 2018. Chobani is the chain’s latest target.

Whole Foods was first alerted of the GMOs in Chobani Greek yogurt when consumer advocacy groups highlighted that the brand uses milk that comes from dairy cows fed with GMO animal feed. The high-end grocery store has been known to cater to consumer groups’ requests, as the company also stopped stocking Hershey Co.’s (NYSE:HSY) Scharrfen Berger chocolate last year after it was accused of not ensuring its cocoa wasn’t harvested with forced child labor.

Greek yogurt has recently become a popular dairy option thanks to its high protein, low sugar content reputation, but the market for the thicker yogurt is also becoming more saturated, meaning that many brands expect to benefit from Whole Foods’ exclusion of Chobani offerings. The Journal says that the Austin, Texas-based company is now interested in making room on its shelves for brands that are more exclusive and marketing food that don’t contain GMOs. Two such organic, GMO-free brands that stand to benefit are Maia and Stonyfield, according to the publication.

So Whole Foods will stop stocking Chobani in the new year, appeasing consumer advocacy groups and potentially confusing customers, considering Chobani markets its yogurt as containing only natural ingredients. What’s puzzling about the company’s decision is that it will still continue to carry Fage, a major Chobani rival, which has products that aren’t GMO free, either. Fage could still be the next yogurt brand to get the boot, but for now, it looks as if that company has secured a spot for 2014 — and that’s more than what its major competitor can say.

It’s still unclear how Chobani, one of the Greek yogurt pioneers, is taking the news that the highly popular grocery chain will no longer carry its products, but a company representative told the Journal in a statement, “Though we have limited distribution within Whole Foods, they have been a wonderful and an important partner of ours over the years.”

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