Vendors And Marketers: Are you ready for a gluten-free consumer?

As I’m headed off to Natural Products Expo West, I want to make sure that the vendors are prepared for me. That wasn’t supposed to make me sound like a huge pain in the rear – because I can be, but that’s not what I’m talking about. They need to be ready for me – a member of the gluten-free press – but also a gluten-free consumer. I’m the type of gluten-free consumer that you’ll likely face when your product gets picked up by a retailer and you expand your business from your garage to a multi-million dollar empire. I’m the kind of person who is going to be calling your 1-800 number, tweeting you, writing on your Facebook wall, and emailing you important questions about the gluten-free status of your product. Because I need to know. Because celiacs need to know.


Celiac and the Beast

Celiac and the Beast

Here are some things that you need to know before you hit the trade show floor:

What ingredients are in your products? I know that I shouldn’t have to tell you this. However, I’m surprised at how many brand reps didn’t know what ingredients were in their food – especially top 8 allergens and gluten – when demo’ing at expos – even Expo West. Yes, I can look at your ingredient list and you can dig a box or product sheet out from the back and I find out for myself, but that would take all 3 days at Expo West to just hit one hall that way! This even goes for outside the food environment – bath and beauty and pet food companies need to know too!

How is your product produced/manufactured/packaged? Is it safe for celiacs? Just because your product is made with gluten-free ingredients doesn’t mean your product is safe for someone like me – a celiac. If your product is manufactured on shared equipment with gluten, that’s a no-go for most celiacs, unless you have some sort of exceptional testing or certification record (see below). If you are manufactured in the same facility as gluten, but not on shared equipment, be prepared to talk about how separate you keep the gluten-containing ingredients from the gluten-free products. But be honest, our bodies will tell us if you are lying – and you don’t want that! If your product is not safe for a celiac, that’s okay with us! However, we do want you to disclose if your product is safe or not when we ask, and we want it to be labeled as such (shared equipment, etc.). We don’t expect everything to be catered to a celiac consumer, but if you’re saying your product is gluten-free and it’s only “kinda sorta gluten-free except for our shared thing, etc.” then you should be totally transparent.

Is your product tested to 20ppm? It helps if you actually know what 20ppm is too so you don’t look like a deer in the headlights when we ask. Twenty parts per million of gluten is the max (meaning it has to be less than 20) allowed for a food to be called gluten-free. We’d love it if it tested at 5ppm or lower – but that’s not always a possibility. We’d really just love if you knew what level your product tests at. This question often goes along with the next question – is your product certified?

Is your product certified? Several companies give some sort of gluten-free certification or verification. I trust the GFCO the most. That seal of approval is something we’re all looking for. It means you’ve invested time, money, and due diligence into targeting us and keeping us safe.

Everyone in your company needs to be aware of these things. This means from the CEO to the intern that you have in charge of checking your Instagram account. You will get questions on all platforms – so the people monitoring those platforms need to know this.

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Comments: 7

  1. Molly (Based on a Sprue Story) March 4, 2014 at 7:51 pm Reply

    Ah, that good old “deer in the headlights” look (often accompanied by a long, drawn-out, “Uhhhhhhh….”). The best “celiac beware” sign ever.

  2. Vik March 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm Reply

    Go get ’em with the piercing questions, Erica! 🙂 Seriously, we all need to keep asking
    those questions, and if the answers aren’t in our healthy interest, let the manufacturer know, nicely and regretfully, why we won’t be buying their product. I do that every time I engage in one of those bajillion calls, emails, or in person questions. Same with the kudos, letting the companies know how we appreciate them, saying yay, we can safely eat or use this, thank you!

    Molly, I totally had that whole deer in headlights experience at a farmers market recently. A woman was selling baked goods with a big gluten free sign. I started asking all about the kitchen facility and cross contamination issues, and she got an alarmed overwhelmed look and LITERALLY said uhhhhhhhhhh. She said she wasn’t aware and thanked me for giving her information about CC.

  3. Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine February 17, 2016 at 8:46 am Reply

    Ah yes! It always seems like the reps they send to these events know NOTHING about the products or even brands!

  4. Megan @ A Dash of Megnut February 17, 2016 at 10:39 am Reply

    I was literally just thinking about this yesterday! You are definitely the type of person we want meeting these brands though! These companies need to be prepared for the celiac community since we do have so many questions and rightfully so… food is our only medicine for this disease!

    And Molly… that deer in the headlights look makes me run away from whatever I was about to eat so fast lol

  5. Celeste February 17, 2016 at 2:49 pm Reply

    Yes, yes, YES! I get so annoyed when brand reps at expos don’t know the answers to any of my questions. Conversely, when they really know their stuff I’m more likely to look into their product and become a regular customer.

  6. jules February 17, 2016 at 8:53 pm Reply

    So very true, Erica. I try to get every brand I meet with at Expo to get certified by GFCO. If they don’t want to, I get suspicious. Why not? What are you hiding? Don’t you want to be trained and overseen and held to the best practices available?
    Thanks for sharing in advance of Expo West. Hopefully some brands will take heed!

  7. Bain March 8, 2016 at 12:02 pm Reply

    This is great! I’m not celiac, but my new brother-in-law is, so I’m taking note of any products I find for his mom (Dad’s new wife). Not only does she love to cook, she loves to pick up gifts of new products for him.

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