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Grocers Catering to a Glut of Gluten-Free Shoppers

Grocers Catering to a Glut of Gluten-Free Shoppers

The response to Price Chopper's recent Gluten Free Food Festival was so overwhelming that it had to turn 100 interested customers away. “We hated to disappoint them, but fire laws prohibited us from taking any more in,” said spokeswoman Maureen Murphy. “There is obviously an acute need for this in the community.”

Indeed, roughly one out of every 133 Americans has celiac disease, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. When sufferers consume foods containing gluten — which is found in wheat, barley and rye — their body is left unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Supermarkets hold the only key to preventing symptoms ranging from depression to fatigue and joint pain: a lifelong gluten-free diet. These foods are also reportedly providing relief for some sufferers of autism, multiple sclerosis and lupus.

In recent months, Wegmans, Price Chopper and Dorothy Lane Market have devised clever strategies for forging lifelong bonds with those afflicted with gluten sensitivities.

To ensure that news of its event fell on relevant ears, Price Chopper consulted a database of customers who've contacted its nutritionist with questions about gluten-free foods. The retailer also reached out to gastroenterologists and celiac support groups, and asked them to spread the word about the event.

A hotel was required to accommodate the 1½-hour festival and its 300 guests. They enjoyed cooking demonstrations by Elizabeth Barbone, author of Easy Gluten-Free Baking, and samples offered by gluten-free food manufacturers. The retailer's nutritionist was also available to help consumers with their special food shopping challenges. Price Chopper will host its next festival in January.

Wegmans, which fields 1,000 inquiries regarding the gluten status of foods each year, is also reaching out to those with gluten sensitivities. It's astutely tapping into the 97% of celiac disease sufferers who've probably never tried gluten-free products because they've yet to be diagnosed. Last week, the chain had 100,000 NFCA “Do I have celiac?” brochures on hand along with samples of gluten-free foods. Dietitians were made available in 25 stores to provide detailed information about the disease. In addition, Wegmans is dedicating a newsletter to celiac disease. The retailer merchandises between 150 and 250 gluten-free products and affixes “G” labels to many of the category's store-brand items. Shoppers will no doubt reach for the trusted brand rather than spend time inspecting the tiny ingredients list on national-brand alternatives.

Meanwhile, last month marked the second time that 20-25 Dorothy Lane Market shoppers convened for its monthly Gluten-Free Food Lover's Club. Participants receive information on nutritious gluten-free options and take a store tour at the end of the meeting. The free support group was dreamed up by store associate C.A. Diltz, who's charged with sourcing DLM's gluten-free food selection. After feeling tired and achy, she was diagnosed as being anemic and prescribed Celebrex, but the medication caused stomach problems. She became a huge advocate of gluten-free foods after a rotation diet identified reactions to wheat, corn and soy. Her inventiveness displays a lucrative lesson that's easy for anyone to digest.