Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Difference Between Doing it Right and Doing it Wrong

Part of me questions if the title of this post is misleading. Depending on who you are, and what your reasons for eating gluten free food are ultimately determine that. I am writing this from the perspective of an individual with celiac disease. Ultimately, this applies to anyone who requires a strict gluten free diet out of medical necessity. Ultimately, I wish all gluten free items were "safe" for everyone eating gluten free items whether they have celiac disease or not.

It was some time ago that Panera Bread announced they were coming out with “gluten conscious” menu items. This included a triple chocolate cookie with walnuts and a monster cookie with nuts. They didn’t intend to take any steps to prevent cross contamination, and they were very clear that they didn’t recommend these items for those with celiac disease or a severe gluten sensitivity. Despite the fact that these items were made in a dedicated facility (I heard this at the time, but I've been unable to confirm it today), they were going to store them on the racks with all of their other cookies. I never quite understood why the only items they would feature would be cookies considering they’re known for their bagels, but that is beside the point. If they were taking all of the effort to have them done in a gluten free facility, why couldn’t they simply individually wrap them to avoid any chance of cross contamination so those with celiac disease could enjoy them.  

Then, several months ago, Starbucks began test marketing breakfast sandwiches in select markets. The sandwich would be in a special parchment bag that allowed staff to bake the sandwich without contaminating it. A few days ago, they announced their Gluten-Free Smoked Canadian Bacon & Egg Sandwich will be available nationwide (although it is not necessarily available at all locations). I’ve already heard a few accounts of staff misunderstanding and unwrapping the sandwich to bake it. It’s unfortunate that those with celiac disease need to do their due diligence to make sure they know it’s wrong if they receive an unwrapped sandwich. With that being said, it’s exciting that there is a safe option and that they took the time to ensure it could be done right.
Starbucks Gluten-Free Smoked Canadian Bacon & Egg Sandwich Info

This situation reminds me of when Chuck E. Cheese's came out with a gluten free pizza around the same time as Domino’s did. The difference between the two was huge. Chuck E Cheese's was going to bake theirs in a special bag, and deliver it to your table with an individually wrapped pizza cutter to ensure staff did not contaminate the pizza. Domino’s wasn’t going to take any steps to prevent cross contamination, and they clearly stated this on their website. The problem with it was that if you called to order the pizza, they didn’t always give the “required” disclaimer. Shortly after it was announced, I called several locations throughout the United States, and they all seemed very confused about what to say, and it took me asking many questions for several of them to go get the information they were supposed to disclose which is basically what this picture says:
Domino's gluten free crust disclaimer

Ultimately, despite the potential for things going wrong if the sandwich or pizza are unwrapped in error, Starbuck's and Chuck E.Cheese's are doing things right. They have taken steps to ensure those with celiac disease can safely eat their items. Those steps ensure safety from start to finish rather than starting with a safe product and then making it unsafe along the way.

My hope is that the companies doing things right will thrive and other companies will see this. I realize that those with celiac disease are a small percentage of the population, but we are ultimately the customer base. Those who choose to eat gluten free because it's healthier are unlikely to eat pizza or a breakfast sandwich in the first place, and those who choose it as a fad diet aren't going to be long term customers. If the goal is to build a long term customer base, then they need to make things for those who will require the diet for life. Eventually, the fad will die out, and there won't be anyone left to purchase their products unless those who require a gluten free diet are able to consume the item.

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