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.
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.