Gluten Free Consumers Among Most Brand-Loyal
Gluten-free certification provides companies with comprehensive criteria to meet growing consumer demand
By Allie Gallant
In August of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a new rule surrounding gluten-free product labels. With consumer demand on the rise, having a clear picture of which products contain gluten and which are gluten-free (defined in most countries as less than 20 parts per million) is important. It’s especially critical for those with Celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity.
“People with Celiac disease and non-Celiac gluten sensitive consumers are among the most loyal when it comes to brands,” says Paul Valder, President and CEO of the Allergen Control Group. “These consumers are the best ingredient label readers in the world. Once they’ve identified a brand as safe, they’ll stick with it, even if that means visiting multiple stores on a weekly basis.” The Allergen Control Group, with the endorsement of the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA), operates the Gluten Free Certification Program (GFCP).
Dina Liebmann, a gluten-free consumer who was diagnosed with Celiac disease at age two, looks to the ingredient list for guidance. “I always look to the label, in particular the ingredients. It’s the best way to make sure a product is safe. But once I’ve found a brand and have a good experience with it, I tend to gravitate towards those products and use the ingredient listing as a secondary assurance.”
Establishing brand loyalty with consumers can be prompted with a certified gluten-free product label. “When consumers are scanning the labels in the grocery store, they may be encouraged by a third-party endorsement of safety, such as the CCA,” says Mr. Valder. “It creates a distinction from other products that are advertised as gluten-free.”
The Gluten-Free Certification Program has certified over 100 facilities in 12 countries, and over 2,500 products. Currently, over 130 GFCP-approved and trained auditors provide global coverage to accommodate today’s multi-national supply chains. Once they’ve identified a brand as safe, they’ll stick with it.
Demand for gluten-free product labels is on the rise; Packaged Facts estimates that by the year 2017 the sale of gluten-free foods and beverages in the United States will be 46.6 billion. The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (managed by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America), and Quality Assurance International’s Gluten-Free Program are two other established North American standards.
At a recent panel discussion at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, big retailers like McDonalds and Walmart stressed the fact that programs including ethical treatment, fair trade coffee, and gluten-free certifications are largely about corporate social responsibility. It’s a way for companies to show consumers that they too believe in the importance of just “doing the right thing.”
Sue Newell, Operations Director of the Canadian Celiac Association, emphasizes that focusing on certifying the facility, not just the products, is the ideal approach. “The Gluten Free Certification Program that we collaborated on is definitely facility-focused,” says Sue. “It’s preventative. End product testing is great, but you can’t rely on it. It’s more important to target risks at the source and make sure everyone – including senior management – is applying the standard at every point in the process. It shares this trait with all HACCP-based standards.”
The preventative approach of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is the foundation of today’s most widely accepted food safety standards, particularly those recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
“We specifically designed our program to complement GFSI standards, not compete with them,” says Mr. Valder. “A successful and comprehensive gluten management program should be a convenient and cost-effective add-on to your existing food safety management system.”
In the end, it’s all about the consumer. “We’ve got a new app in development called GlutenFree247,” says Mr. Valder. “It’s a more convenient way for people with Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity to keep track of what to buy and what to avoid.” The app is an option to replace the current pocket diaries that many of these consumers carry with them when shopping for safe food choices.
Becoming certified to a gluten-free standard gives consumers assurance that you’re meeting safety requirements that will protect their health and well-being. Whether people choose to go gluten free for medical reasons or otherwise, proving to customers that you understand the importance of a science-based gluten-free standard is one way to achieve lasting brand loyalty.
Packaged Facts. Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the US, 4th Edition, 2012. http://www.packagedfacts.com/gluten-free-foods-7144767/.
About the Author
Allie Gallant is a freelance writer and blogger; follow her GFSR blogs on Food Safety in a Global Village.
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