The first step into a grocery store after discovering that you need to be gluten free can be a scary one. The aisles and food choices you’ve come to love now fill you with fear because they are loaded with a protein that now feels like poison.
It’s not uncommon to find a customer with a look of overwhelm and confusion staring aimlessly at the gluten-free section (if your store even has one). I’ve often stopped and asked these folks if they need some help because I’m a veteran with more than six years of experience living gluten free.
One fairly common occurrence is for gluten-free newbies to ask for help from store employees who are not trained to provide dietary advice. Giving the wrong information or coming across as dismissive blows a huge hole in consumer trust and can make your patrons sick. This type of problem can cost you loyal customers considering that bad news travels fast and patrons will naturally want to warn others to shop elsewhere.
To keep your newly gluten-free patrons happy and build trust in your brand, here are five important ways your employees can positively interact to ensure gluten-free customers come back:
Remind the customer that much of what’s in the produce aisle is naturally gluten free. Fruits and vegetables are totally safe. Meat and fish (without any spices, breading or sauces) are typically O.K., but it’s best to check with the meat department to verify that there isn't any chance of contamination. Bulk bins, however, are completely off limits because they are a high-risk area to be contaminated by other gluten-containing items and misplaced scoopers.
Suggest they purchase a grocery shopping guide like those from Cecelia’s Gluten Free Marketplace or Triumph Dining's Essential Gluten-Free Shopping Guide. Updated every other year, these books are invaluable resources to know what’s gluten free beyond the gluten-free aisle.
Create a gluten-free store shopping guide that’s easy to download and print from your website. Again, knowledge truly helps those new to this lifestyle feel more at ease and willing to return to your store.
Show shoppers how to determine if a product is gluten free by looking at the label. Whether it’s pointing out the words “gluten free” or finding one of the several certified gluten-free symbols, this may be the first time they’ll see these types of important labels.
- Ask for help if questions go above your employees' knowledge base and comfort. Most people avoiding gluten who are afraid to shop have serious medical conditions. Assuming or dismissing their reasons for eating gluten-free can land your store in hot water and destroy the trust you may have spent years cultivating with this customer. By having point people and resources your employees can suggest to customers increases the chances that they will return.
Jennifer Fugo is the founder of Gluten Free School and teaches gluten-sensitive individuals simple, savvy and empowering steps to get healthy. Living gluten-free since early 2008 after a gluten sensitivity diagnosis, she knows what it's like to feel overwhelmed by the cost and seemingly complicated aspects of going gluten-free. A sought-after expert, advocate & speaker about healthy, gluten-free living, Jennifer has been featured on Dr. Oz, Yahoo! News, eHow, CNN, and Philadelphia Magazine and is the author behind the ground-breaking book "The Savvy Gluten-Free Shopper: How to Eat Healthy without Breaking the Bank".