Natural Foods Merchandiser
Be a better gluten-free retailer

Be a better gluten-free retailer

Diagnosed with celiac disease, retailer Pam MacDonald offers essential tips other stores can follow to best cater to gluten-free shoppers.

Various health concerns motivate people to go gluten free. Pam MacDonald’s hand was forced by just one: a celiac disease diagnosis in 1997. Upon opening Pam MacD’s Gluten-Free Market in 2011, her Burbank, Calif., store became Los Angeles County’s first and only dedicated gluten-free retailer. The store’s mission is to carry the best and widest selection of gluten-free products under one roof. MacDonald will be a panelist at Natural Products Expo West’s Specialty Diets Forum on Thursday, March 7, 2013, so we asked her to share some insights about the specialty market world.

NFM: Why open a gluten-free market?

Pam MacDonald: Before opening Pam MacD’s, I was primarily a corporate wife. But then I learned of my celiac disease. Once gluten-free foods started becoming available, I would join others on runs around Los Angeles to find retailers that carried these items. After a while, I kept muttering to myself that someone ought to open a store. Did I think I would be that someone? No.

NFM: How do you vet products for gluten-intolerant customers?

PM: We look for quality, taste, texture and adherence to Enzyme Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay testing in all items we carry. Gluten-free customers seek quality products that substitute for the foods they’ve been missing since going on a restricted diet. At Pam MacD’s, we employ both gluten-restricted and -unrestricted employees. This way, when we sample new gluten-free products, those who are able to eat “regular food” can tell us what’s actually palatable versus what’s downright dreck.

NFM: What common missteps do retailers make when trying to serve the gluten-free community?

PM: A big one is buying products marked gluten free that have back labels that say made on shared equipment. This is still a buyer-beware area. For many gluten-free eaters, this is a product’s kiss of death, but then again, for just as many, it makes no difference. Another issue is oats. The gluten-free oat has been grown on a dedicated oat field that has never been used to grow wheat, barley or rye. The gluten-free oat must be processed, transported and stored in an exclusive manner. If not, cross-contamination will no doubt occur. Lastly, ingredient labels that list seasonings are immediately suspect. Without specificity as to what the seasonings are, gluten-free eaters will automatically assume the product contains wheat.  

Gluten-free education

Looking for more in-person education on gluten-free retail? Check out the Specialty Diets Forum at the upcoming Natural Products Expo West 2013 in March.

Specialty Diets Forum

Thursday, March 7, 2013
Robyn O’Brien
8-9 a.m.

Successful Merchandising

Pam MacDonald
9:15-10:15 a.m.

Social Media

Carolyn Scott-Hamilton
10:30-11:30 a.m. 

Luncheon Speaker

Kristin Bauer
11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.

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