Natural Foods Merchandiser

What's next in naturals: gluten-free foods, eliminating checkout lines, camel milk

Find out what three leading news stories in the natural products industry mean for you: gluten traces found in naturally gluten-free foods, eliminating checkout lines, camel milk moves closer to U.S. market.

Traces of gluten found in naturally gluten-free foods
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association’s July survey of naturally gluten-free products such as millet, buckwheat and sorghum flour found that many were contaminated with gluten in amounts greater than 20 parts per million, the limit for a proposed federal gluten-free standard. One soy flour had gluten content approaching 3,000 ppm, which could prove disastrous for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine. Gluten content of just 50 ppm can trigger celiac disease–related problems, says Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America.

What’s next: Kupper believes many other naturally gluten-free products may also be contaminated because they are harvested, transported, processed and manufactured alongside products containing gluten. Since she says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed gluten-free standard appears to be in bureaucratic limbo, Kupper and her colleagues are recommending consumers with gluten-free diets purchase only naturally gluten-free grain products explicitly labeled “gluten free,” as it is more likely the manufacturer performs tests or takes other means to prevent cross contamination. Still, concerns led at least one natural distributor and manufacturer, Azure Standard, to avoid labeling products gluten free altogether, even though many of its products are naturally gluten free. “I’m not going to sell to the gluten-free market until I can totally isolate these foods from the production of my other products,” says Azure Standard CEO David Stelzer.

What this means for retail: Until the FDA finalizes a gluten-free definition, Kupper recommends that retailers require manufacturers of products labeled “gluten free” to show proof—either through test results or a company statement—that these products don’t contain potentially harmful levels of gluten. Retailers also need to educate consumers on the issue, she says, such as including information in store displays or newsletters explaining what “gluten free” means and why there have been reports of cross contamination.

New innovations aim to eliminate checkout lines
Say goodbye to long grocery lines. The Kroger grocery chain is testing automated tunnel scanners that allow items to be checked out at high speed without manual scanning by cashiers or shoppers. And more developments are on the way: An international team of researchers is developing nanoparticle-based printed radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags that can be printed directly onto grocery products like price tags. That means all items will be able to be scanned and tallied immediately by RFID scanners without having to be taken out of the grocery cart.

What’s next: James Tour, a chemistry professor at Rice University in Houston who’s collaborating on the project, believes a marketable version of the product tag could be rolling out in as little as five years—triggering a grocery-store revolution straight out of the Jetsons. Grocery bills could be rung up instantaneously as customers push carts out the door, and would be charged immediately thanks to the RFID tags already embedded in many credit cards. RFID scanners deployed throughout the store would be capable of calculating real-time product inventories on the fly. Shrink would significantly drop, because no item could leave the store without triggering a scanner.

What this means for retail: While such technologies are several years away, Tour believes retailers may want to start gearing up by updating their scanners to include versions that read credit-card RFID tags. After all, barcodes could soon be a thing of the past. As Tour puts it, “I think this is certainly the way the world is going to go.”

Camel milk moves closer to the U.S. market
Consumers may eventually find camel milk stocked alongside cow’s milk and soymilk. Last year, the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments voted to include camel milk in its Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, the first step to allowing the milk, high in vitamin C and unsaturated fatty acids, to be sold though interstate commerce. Since camel milk, popular in Russia and the Middle East, can’t yet legally be imported here or sold over state lines, the small number of Americans with camel herds usually have to make do with selling products like camel-milk soap and running educational programs.

What’s next: Before camel milk can be cleared for commerce, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has to validate a test for drug residues, a process that FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci says will likely take several years. Other unique milks may be coming down the line too: In 2009, officials also amended the Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance to include milk from llamas, reindeer and moose, among other animals.

What this means for retail: Even if camel milk is cleared for interstate commerce, retailers shouldn’t be expecting a camel-milk deluge. Most of the country’s few thousand camels reside in zoos or theme parks, and a camel produces at best a gallon of milk a day—a fraction of a typical dairy cow’s yield. Still, new kinds of milks may soon be hitting the market: The FDA approved the selling of water-buffalo milk in 2009.

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