I received the following from two people who I really respect in the gluten-free community. Please read. These pretzels won’t be entering my house and I hope not yours either.
Are you willing to be poisoned? For profit?
I apologize for the alarm, but where food safety and our health are concerned, silence is not an option. I hope you agree.
This month I met a senior executive of a food company that is launching a new gluten-free product. When I asked why their product was not certified gluten-free, I was discouraged (because I usually only eat products that are certified). As we discussed their reasons, and their casual and dangerous interpretation of what “gluten free” means,my stomach knotted, by blood pressure rose and I was moved to write a letter to their CEO.
Please read the letter, and join me and thousands of gluten-free consumers who will not be taken advantage of for profit’s sake. The incredible growth of the gluten-free segment of the food industry is usually a positive development for those of us adhering to this eating style. But this growth also is fraught with perils, as uncaring, uninformed companies disregard our health in their eager attempts to capture their share of our dollars. I’ve long compelled my readers to not patronize companies that produce inferior products; to not compromise on taste. Nor should we blindly flock like underfed lemmings to the snack food aisle to purchase the latest “gluten-free” offerings…without proof of the companies’ commitment to protecting our health.
Until now, I had nothing against this company, but in light of what I learned directly from a senior executive, I feel nothing but an all-out boycott of this product by the gluten-free community will suffice. We need to send a message that our collective purchasing power is powerful indeed. And that gluten-free consumers deserve the safety, care and accountability that marketing a product to us demands. Your swift and committed response will send a message not only to this company, but will serve as a warning to others who want to capitalize on us without doing their diligence.
Don’t remain silent. Exercise your right! Voice your concerns by contacting the President and CEO of Snyder’s of Hanover directly, Mr. Carl Lee at SOH@snyders-han.com.
Then please pass on this letter to all those you care about who live gluten free.
The gluten-free community is a tight-knit one, indeed. Let’s harness the power we have in our numbers, and raise our voices. We will not be exploited!
Mr. Carl Lee
President & CEO
Snyder’s of Hanover
VIA FAX 717-632-7207
March 26, 2010
Your company has undoubtedly identified the gluten-free segment of the food market as a high-growth opportunity. You are about to learn how vital truly gluten-free foods are to the health of this same population – a population which can be very vocal when they think they are being taken advantage of and when their health is placed in jeopardy.
I met with your Vice President of Marketing at Expo West and engaged him in a discussion about your new gluten-free pretzels. I was initially excited about this brand new offering, but I soon became horrified at your company’s reckless disregard for the safety of the population to which you hope to market this product.
When I asked about why Snyder’s isn’t GF certified, your VP of Marketing, Rudi Fischer, brushed off the notion, explaining that the company had explored the requirements of certification, and “didn’t want the headaches” that came with it. He elaborated that Snyder’s didn’t want to have to do any product recalls or lose inventory because any given run may test at over 20 ppm gluten. He even threw out the example that if someone “forgot to wash down the line” between gluten and gluten-free runs, he didn’t want to have to “report to anyone else, pull inventory or do any recalls of product”. He went so far as to say that although the bags are currently labeled “Gluten Free” and also “Wheat Free,” the company is actually going to take off the “Wheat Free” designation since the products are run with wheat products and are potentially contaminated with wheat. Shockingly, he indicated that the “Gluten Free” label will remain, however.
Your VP also said your company is not really concerned with the gluten ppm test results since, he said, “only 3 million people are celiac, and most of them don’t even know it yet.” He identified your target market as “the other 22 million eating gluten free, just because.s” He indicated that this market segment wouldn’t really care if your products contained 20ppm or 23ppm gluten. Can he be serious? When I inquired as to why on earth Snyder’s would enter this marketplace (with this approach), he answered, “Because Glutino is making a killing with their pretzels.”
This 3-ppm increase in gluten could trigger any number of symptoms in celiacs, or in those who “merely” eat gluten free, ranging from painful gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and cramping, to nutrient malabsorption, painful skin lesions, joint inflammation, fatigue, infertility and miscarriage, and of course, headaches – although apparently ours are not as serious as the headaches your VP indicated would come with gluten-free certification.
I spent the afternoon before the Expo speaking at the Healthy Baking Seminar to more than 130 manufacturers who wanted to get gluten free right. Small and large companies which are willing to invest in educating themselves about the onerous responsibility of gluten-free food safety as well as the market opportunity it represents.
They know, as I wish your company did, that gluten free is not just about a market opportunity. It is a responsibility manufacturers bear when they enter this marketplace. Did you do more than buy the SPINS report, or did you actually talk to gluten-free consumers? In any of your focus groups, did anyone say that a 3-ppm increase (or more) in gluten is acceptable? One-eighth of a teaspoon of gluten-containing flour can cause a chain reaction of painful symptoms in gluten-free consumers from which it may take weeks to recover. The manufacturers who take this responsibility seriously and produce good products — the ones who do it right — like Glutino, can make “a killing.” The ones who disregard the importance of the responsibility they bear, like Great Specialty Products (recently indicted in North Carolina on six counts of obtaining property by false pretenses by marketing bread as gluten-free that was not, in fact, gluten-free), will have far more to deal with than poor sales.
This is a critical juncture for Snyder’s entering this market. As you will see, all eyes are now on you; you have the opportunity to do the right thing. If your product recovers from this misinformed beginning, it will be by finding an organization who is willing to train and certify you – and believe that when they walk out the door you will uphold their standards. It will also come from taking the time to understand your market and ingrain yourself into the gluten-free community by funding celiac research, by supporting efforts to raise awareness for the needs of the gluten-free community, and by proactively lobbying for tougher — not looser — labeling protocols. Take the high road and redeem your company, leading the category by example, or your “gluten-free” products will fail and much good will toward your company will be squandered.
Jules E. D. Shepard