Aren't supermarkets fun?

At my local branch of one of the large chains, I found the wrong sort of cereal in the 'Free From' section. It was labelled on the shelf as being a gluten-free item but what they had put there was a different item from the same manufacturer which was not gluten-free. I told a member of staff who said that they would so something about it.

A couple of days later I went back and it was still there - so I told another member of staff who also said they would sort it.

I went back a couple of days alter and it was still there so I gave feedback using the online form on their website. Their response was:

"I'm very sorry that on your recent visits to your local store you've seen the Eat Natural Crunchy Breakfast With Nuts in the Free From section when it isn't gluten free. I understand how frustrating that must've been; especially as you've raised this issue with the store previously.

"In the 'Free From' section; some items that are sold there may not be free from everything. With regards to this particular product; it’s free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. However, I've logged this on our Internal Feedback System whereby we can monitor to see if any similar issues arise as we take this very seriously."

So now, apparently, they think they can just put anything that is free from "artificial colours, flavours and preservatives" in the 'Free From' section and that's OK. Rather than say "whoops, sorry, training issue" they come up with half-baked excuse. It's nice to know what they really think of their customers. God help us if this is what they mean by taking it seriously.

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20 Replies

  • Hi Claudio

    Did you get a photo? It's hard to dispute photographic evidence!

    It seems to me that they didn't really address your issue - which from what you have said, is the mislabelling of the actual shelf rather than the product.

    The mind boggles as to why they couldn't have just said a straightforward 'sorry' and 'whoops' we got it wrong - and maybe even thanking you for making the effort to say something.

    Do you fancy giving us a hint as to which chain of supermarkets it was?

  • I'm sure I could give you a clue or maybe not, it depends but every little helps, I suppose...

  • Lol - Nice clue! I had wondered if it was that one. It seems somehow to fit their M.O.

  • If you go around supermarkets looking for foods that are alright for you, you will come across many products that are dumped by customers who decide they do not want what they have picked up. I find the Free From aisle a health risk to myself but I still look for new products and check the ingredients to see if it OK for me 9 out of 10 its put back.

  • Well I have to agree Pretender .......

  • Yes, but this was a bit different - they had put the wrong item from the same range in the 'Free From' section. Things that have been dumped are easier to identify - and more forgiveable.

  • Hi Claudio

    I had the same problem a few years ago and was ill for 6 days- the supermarket's reply was total indifference. It is so important and yet so easy to pick something up when you are shopping in a rush (or without reading glasses!) I now buy my gf goods from as everything on their website is certified gluten free and they sell themselves on not having to read labels as everything is checked and either says "gluten free" or has the cross grain.

  • The problem is that most of the time I am in a rush and I don't have my glasses - fortunately this time I had both time and glasses!

  • Sorry but I prefer to read what the ingredients are than go by the term "gluten free" or go by the "cross grain" symbol because they represent a health risk to this coeliac, good for others not for me.

  • I always check the ingredients list even if it's on the Free From shelves. The supermarket I sometimes use has a notice saying Free from includes dairy free etc & not just gluten free. My main gripe is when they put things with non-gluten free e.g. brown sauce, and you have to look in several places before you realise they don't have any! Shopping takes longer without having to search as well as read all the labels.

    Thanks Libsan for the Gluten-free Shop web-site - I have seen several things my local supermarket only stocks sporadically - I shall definitely be placing an order.

  • In my local big Tesco Free From frozen products include vegetarian! I suppose technically they are free from meat :)

  • I worry about the conveyor belts at the check out as they could have crumbs etc from the 'fresh' bread and cakes they sell and often think this is overlooked as a potential problem. So I tend to use the self service check outs and make sure that the one I use is clean.

    As for the free from section having dairy free as well as gluten free I do not have a problem with this and as I do not eat oats so would have to avoid many foods that are in them. And so many are packed with preservatives and additives I think free from what? nutrition! So the free from aisles are not for me but I can see that they are useful to some.

    A couple of years ago I emailed Sainsbury's with a query and they emailed me back saying that they were dealing with my complaint, so I replied that it was not a complaint and I actually liked Sainsbury's and had found their staff helpful. I had a reply thanking me for praising them and asking if I would be interested in giving them feed back periodically so I agreed and in the first one regarding the large store at Filton I said that many of the free from foods especially biscuits were made with oats and or oat flour and many coeliac could not tolerate oats so if they had more without oats they would cater for coeliac better, they now have a bigger selection without oats so I was pleased with this even tho' I don't buy any of them. The next one was about a Sainsbury's local shop and I said that I was a coeliac and that this store did not stock any free from foods and that coeliac needed a gf diet so it was important to us and they have now added a small free from section there.

    So I feel that 'we' as coeliac need to interact with the big supermarkets to help get the message out about our needs and by being positive we can then give constructive criticism.

    I have also contacted Tesco's about their mini stores and emphasised the need for free from foods and they did not reply. But this is something that I feel strongly about for obvious reasons.

  • I wish Aldi were as helpful :-( It is the closest supermarket to us and the only gf product they have is a slightly burned stale-tasting loaf (occasionally in stock). We end up still having to shop in a different place for coconut milk, cereals, biscuits etc.

  • You'd never buy that bread if you read the ingredient list!

  • "Free from Nutrition"! Great description.

  • Having worked in retail I see the biggest problem being Coeliac's themselves, How many supermarkets in your town ? How many Coeliac's in your town ? How many Coeliac's cannot tolerate Gluten (even at the 20ppm level) ? So why are the smaller shops going to stock products that are only going to sell to a minority group ? Even the big supermarkets have problems with stock movement.

    Aunt Bessie made a gravy product that any Coeliac could tolerate, it was withdrawn through lack of sales.

    For those buying "Gluten Free" Foods the chances of contamination on the conveyor belts to the tills is zero due to the packaging, buying fresh fruits and veg ? don't you was them before cooking or eating them, another reduction on contamination.

    I should dread to think of where some people shop to be worried about contamination from a rotating conveyor belt, what about the shopping basket or trolley?

  • I think you demonstrate part of the mindset of retail that causes all the problem: they want to 'segment' (awful word) people and they forget that people fall into a number of categories at any one time. Lots of mainstream products have elements of gluten that are totally unnecessary - removing them would not really change the product but it would make it suitable for people with coeliac disease and their families and friends. A restaurant manager once told me that they sell way more - and it was way more - vegetarian meals when they stopped advertising them as 'vegetarian meals' but indicated on the main menu that certain meals were suitable for veggies (but, presumably can be eaten by anybody not only those who identify as veggie).

    The minority group is somewhere round 1% of the population. That works out in the end as being quite a few people. With the premium that many of will (unwillingly) pay, there's a fair bit of money out there.

  • I even check the labels of free from products. At Xmas I didn't buy the free from mince pies - although apparently gluten free, they had wheat glucose listed.

    Pretender - I miss that Aunt Bessies gravy.

    Claudio - good point well made. In the M&S cafe the other day, the only GF item on the menu was the bread roll - presumably without the soup (which was not identified as being GF). They should talk to you.

  • Personally I think most people who buy from free from are NOT diagnosed coeliacs. If I stop there I ask people what something is like and then ask if they are. Most admit to it being a choice! I know what I'd eat if I had the choice (they clearly are not looking at the ingredients!)

    Re shops - name and shame. I ranted to Tesco and the next time I went (2 months elapsed after a wasted journey) the chilled cabinet was stocked to the gills with dairy free and the free from isle was bulging!

  • I had a real problem a few years ago with the local branch of a chain based in Bradford. On finding that they were the only major chain not in the Coeliac UK directory, I asked a member of the management team if he knew why and whether he could find out if they would be in the next one.

    Some weeks later, my son (an adult) asked on my behalf for an update. On checking with the same management team member, my son was told that he couldn't be bothered finding out! Unbelievable! I complained to the head office. Shortly after then, I realised that the staff member was no longer around. I do have to say that their free from shelf space is by far the smallest of them all and it does make me wonder whether corporately they have the same general attitude. It's unfortunate that where we live, it's the only major supermarket around. We tend to drive several miles to visit more accommodating competitors.

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