At Dorothy Lane Markets, shoppers with a gluten intolerance or celiac diagnosis don’t spend too much time lamenting the foods they can no longer eat, because they’re met with a bevy of resources to help them take control of their health. In addition to an active Facebook community and thriving gluten-free club, the Ohio specialty market chain “celebrates gluten free” with an annual event that offers seminars, product samples and cooking demonstrations.
This year, thousands of shoppers, some who traveled long distances to attend, packed Dorothy Lane’s Washington Square location, says Joy Kemp, the store’s healthy living director. Kemp explains why her stores put a unique focus on gluten free and how it has created a following within this community.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: Why did you start the DLM Gluten-Free Food Lovers’ Club?
Joy Kemp: We saw so many people come in devastated by their recent gluten-free diagnoses that six years ago we started a support group so these customers wouldn’t feel alone. This has made our store a destination for shoppers who otherwise may not have come to Dorothy Lane.
Our resident gluten-free guru, C.A. Diltz, who has celiac disease, runs the program. The group meets on the second Saturday of the month, but there’s no official sign-up, so people come and go and numbers fluctuate each month. To give you an idea, though, our gluten-free newsletter reaches more than 300 people, and we have more than 700 Facebook fans.
NFM: What happens at your meetings?
JK: They are opportunities for people to get together, get advice, compare stories or ask about the best restaurants. We also have speakers. For example, our produce manager might suggest gluten-free substitutes for popular foods, such as swapping spaghetti squash for spaghetti noodles. He’ll also share recipes.
Or our meat manager might discuss how all of our meat comes from animals fed gluten-free diets. In our prepared offerings, we make gluten-free meatballs, which are difficult to find, so we’ll give samples. If we’re thinking about bringing a new gluten-free food into our grocery department, we’ll often have the club taste it and give us a thumbs up before we decide to carry it.
The club is also popular because it offers a sense of community. It’s nice to not feel like the only one who has to worry about gluten. In October, we had a potluck and everyone brought something and then exchanged recipes. Attendees have forged friendships and have been talking about going out to dinner together outside of the meetings.
NFM: Have you considered starting a club for other specialty diet needs or interests?
JK: We have a low-sodium shopping guide and offer a vegan cooking class, but so far these aren’t as popular as the gluten-free program. C.A. is seeing more and more people. Food has more gluten in it today than it did years ago, and our customers are sensitive to it. It’s not a fad like the Atkins diet.
3 tips to celebrate gluten free in your store
People often feel isolated once they learn they’re gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, Kemp says. Make your store a place where they never feel alone by connecting them with other gluten-free eaters. If you don’t have the resources to offer a gluten-free club, think about a once-a-month cooking class or regular store tours.
Use ample signage.
To keep gluten-free shoppers from feeling segregated, Dorothy Lane includes gluten-free offerings in every aisle and calls out these options using clear and direct signage. “Creating an entirely separate gluten-free section would mean duplicating half the store,” Kemp says. “We have so many gluten-free products that appeal to all eaters.”
Offer a shopping list.
What customer wouldn’t love a ready-made shopping list waiting when he or she enters your store? Dorothy Lane makes it easy to find gluten-free foods by highlighting healthy options in every category. A QR code connects gluten-free shoppers to additional online resources to support their needs.