February 14th is fast approaching and thoughts naturally turn to sweets for your sweetheart. Unfortunately, many of the most popular candies contain high-risk genetically modified ingredients: sugar, soy lecithin, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and cornstarch.

The good news is, there are currently more than 1,500 items in our Non-GMO Project Verified “Candy, Chocolate, Desserts and Sweeteners” category on LivingNonGMO. When you see the Butterfly, you know that product has been third-party tested to North America’s most trusted standard for GMO avoidance. From brands like Wholesome! with 36 Non-GMO Project Verified products (and one of the earliest supporters of the Project’s mission) to C&H Sugar with 33 Non-GMO Project Verified products, the sweetener category has plenty of options for you to be sure you are sharing true non-GMO love this Valentine’s Day!

Another brand known for their sweets has also begun the process of going non-GMO. While not Non-GMO Project Verified, Hershey’s made waves in 2015 when they announced the reformulation of their iconic milk chocolate bar and kisses to only contain non-genetically modified sugar. This kind of change happens for one main reason: consumer demand. We’d like to take a moment to express appreciation to GMO Inside for their mobilization efforts and to all who participated in the campaign! Perry Cerminara, Hershey’s Director of Commodities Sourcing and Procurement told the Capital Press, “As a consumer-centric company, we listen to our consumers and work to respond to their interests and expectations. Non-GM ingredients is something our consumers are telling us is important to them.”

Our voices are being heard. More and more companies are realizing their shoppers are demanding transparency, traceability and products that are made from ingredients they can recognize and trust.

The National Post reported that Hershey’s conducted a poll in 2012 that found that Canadians are avid label readers and two-thirds of those surveyed would only purchase foods made with ingredients they can pronounce (61% associate foods made with simple ingredients as higher in quality; 78% agree that simple whole ingredients taste better than processed ones). In response to these numbers, for the first time in a century, Hershey’s reinvented their milk chocolate bars in Canada to contain only six ingredients: sugar, milk, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin and natural flavor. When a company responds to consumer demand for transparency, ingredients made from GMOs are often removed from recipes; or avoided in the first place during formulation.

It looks like this chocolate change is coming to America, too.

A spoonful of sugar helps the GMO acres go down

Getting legacy brands like Hershey’s to take first steps to go non-GMO is a huge deal. Just imagine how much sugar a business like Hershey’s requires. With $7.4 billion in sales in 2014 and more than 80 brands of candy, their move away from sugar beets to sugar cane is making non-GMO waves.

In 2015, sugar beets accounted for nearly 60 percent of the annual 8.8 million tons of sugar production in the United States. According to Hershey’s Communications Director Jeff Beckman, “More than three-quarters of the sugar we are using today is cane sugar and as we get into 2016, our expectation is to be at or near 100 percent.” In the U.S., the main sugar cane producers are Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and Texas. Around the world, production takes place in Brazil, India, China, Pakistan, Australia, Thailand and Mexico.

The move by Hershey’s is encouraging news, and has the potential to impact the very landscape of non-GMO sugar production. Documented sourcing, segregation and third-party testing of sugar and any risk ingredient is paramount to ensure true non-GMO transparency of the treats we eat. We hope to see the Butterfly on Hershey’s products in the future. The more we share our concerns over GMOs and vote with our wallets, the more we’ll see lasting change throughout the production chain.

To ensure that you have the sweetest non-GMO Valentine’s Day ever, choose from the more than 300 candy and dessert brands that are Non-GMO Project Verified.

Changemakers Change Acres

This blog is part of our monthly Changemaker Change Acres series which celebrates the progress we are all making together towards a collective non-GMO future. Tell us about a brand, retailer or community member who is pushing the movement forward in a notable way. We will honor these leaders at the end of 2016. Submit your nomination anytime through October 31, 2016.

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