Anybody feel like taking on the supermarkets?

A branch of one of the large chains has a 'free from' section. In it they have spelt (contains gluten) and muesli containing gluten - and marked as such. I don't think that is appropriate and ave told them so. Their latest response is "I've fully noted your concerns regarding the layout of the products you mention in the store which are directed to the relevant team in Head Office. I've been assured that the layout is correct on my calls to the store but would encourage you to ask for [name of deputy manager - redacted] on your next visit, should you see something untoward so that he can offer you his explanation for this."

If Head Office say it is okay, I feel the need to put them right.

Now I can keep gong on at them (and will do) but felt that it might be more helpful if there were a few more people. Anybody else feeling like joining a campaign to make them see the error of their ways? I feel coordinated activity might be more useful - different people from different areas complaining at the same time might be good. I quite like the idea of livening up Twitter.

Anybody else want to be a bit more guerilla-like?

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33 Replies

  • Hi Claudio

    Whilst I sympathise with your stance, I think it is worth remembering that the Free From sections and supermarkets are not solely the domain of the gluten-free community. They are also there for those who have a dairy intolerance and for the vegan community etc.

    If the free from section was to serve all of my own needs it would have to be gluten-free, dairy free and soya free! Do I have a right to demand this? Of course I don't!

    Like in every other area in the supermarket, checking the ingredients label before purchase should still be normal behaviour when using the free from section.

    Whilst of course I would love to see further improvements made to these sections - ie. a widening of the ranges, I don't think we as a community have a right to exclude others with different special dietary needs.

  • What is spelt free from? And why is it in between gluten-free goods? It is next to gluten-free flour - what is the point of that? It is simply misleading. Why put it in a 'Free From' section - who benefits?

    What is museli that contains gluten and nuts free from? Certainly not gluten and nuts. Why have it in the 'Free From' section instead of the standard section?

    This is not about excluding anybody - the Free From section is expected to have stuff [my definition here] which does not have things which you might normally expect it to have. So, gluten-free pasta and bread, diary-free desserts etc all make sense - but bog standard items do not.

  • Maybe the items are Free From Something.....I noted the nice looking cakes that contain Rye, yes I got caught out years ago and only visit these isles looking for new products and buy very little if anything from the shelves.

  • I'm with pretender, I very rarely look at the Free From section.

    That said I'm up for a concerted communal lobby, but let's try and find a cause((s) that have the potential to have significant impact long term. This begs the question whether our community should consider a collective lobby policy???????

  • Hi SDM, we had a concerted joint effort on here 2 years ago as Kellogs started selling gf rice krispies in the US but they were not swayed by our efforts. I don't even like breakfast cereals so to me it's about choices.

    Please see:!

    We had just over 600 members then and now there's nearly 3500 so we might be able to influence them. I also think it would be worth having another pop at Kellogs. The problem we face is that they know that coeliac who can tolerate low levels of malt can buy supermarket cereals that are within codex and are told they are OK. Whereas in the US they have no malt regardless of whether it's below codex.

    I think what really helps is to have not only the contact details but a standard letter so that it can just be copied and the company knows that there's a concerted effort.

  • Thanks Jerry.

    I've responded to Claudio's post. What do you think as a way forwward?

  • I'm up for that - how do we start?

  • Hi Claudio,

    How about posting a new Q asking for any other interested members, then all go off main channel and discuss topics, priorities and tactics? Maybe check out outcomes with Fiona?

  • Hi - do you mean start another thread as the area for the discussion? Or is there another way of doing that?

    And who's Fiona? And when do I find her?

    I think it could be useful to pick up one topic at a time - like why are GF pizzas always smaller than non-GF as if we don't get as hungry as other people - and kicking it around before deciding if it's worth taking on.

    I'm up for it.

  • HI Claudio/SDM, the next step:

    First write a standard letter eg Dear Tesco's/whoever I'm a coeliac so I have to avoid gluten and I'm very concerned that there are bags of spelt flour in the free from section as tiny amounts of spelt flour could contaminate the naturally gluten free four and make coeliac like me ill so please could you site the spelt flour where it do not pose a risk to myself or other coeliac.

    I'd like to point out that spelt is in fact an ancient wheat flour so it could be a real risk to those of us who have to avoid gluten.

    Something along those lines so it makes the point and if you read the Telegraph article the 'gluten free pound' is worth £millions

    Then put the contact details so that all any members of GFG have to do is cut and paste the info and email it.

    And as this thread has many replies it would not hurt to start a separate post with a heading like Get supermarket X to remove spelt from their free from shelves.

    And then we can all put the replies we get up and don't lock the post so that casual readers can join in.

    This is how I would start it and by providing a standard letter will encourage those who are busy and those who lack confidence in the best way to have their say.

    Lastly Fiona runs GFG so if you want to contact her first here's her contact details:

    I'm sure that fiona will support this as it is in the best interests of all GFG members.

    That's how I'd go about it and good for you for instigating this.

  • Fortunately Supermarket X is now removing spelt from its Free From section (in my store at least), so I'll be writing them a 'well done' letter.

    But there are other issues - some of which I'd support and others I wouldn't - so I'll start a thread and see what people are interested in.

  • I know I saw it after I'd replied. I was really pleased that you had a result so well done and good for you.

    Having a result like this is empowering and encouraging, it beats being complacent and doing nothing!

  • Thanks Claudio.

    Yep agree. Before we go off on what may not be the most effective lobby, we should at least air our views on what are the most pressing issues that we have a chance of changing, through lobbying. My view is we should look at the macro level first to see if there are any BIG issues we could tackle that may be affected by a lobby. If not then, by all means, let's go for specifics.

  • Hi,

    Sorry to disagree, but what is milk chocolate free from? - certainly not milk; and yet products coated in it are allowed to be in the Free from isle because it is classed as gluten-free. Those with a milk intolerance such as me could kick up a stink about it and yet we don't. We just recognise the product isn't for us by checking the label and then moving on.

    Do I also put in a complaint that Alpro Soya desserts (they are of the kind you say makes sense) are often located in the Free from isle, because they're dairy free and I have a soya intolerance? Of course I don't - again I recognise the product isn't intended for me. Sorry but it's not that big a deal IMO...

    If you're so unhappy with that particular supermarket, how about voting with your wallet/purse and going to a different one. Better still, maybe consider supporting your local independent health food store instead. They are much more likely to treat you well and value your custom. The little one not far from me is fantastic - the owner can order in pretty much anything GF you ask her for, no matter how obscure.

  • Hi Regalbirdy, Sainsbury's have a 70% dark chocolate that is gluten and dairy free in their free from section.

  • Thanks Jerry – I'll certainly check it out. However I've a feeling it will probably contain soya. Most milk and gluten free chocolate does.

  • There is a difference - I am talking about products which have no 'free from' credentials at all. What is spelt free from? What is wholegrain muesli free from? Why not just put them in the standard areas?

    A different supermarket from the one I am talking about organises its 'Free from' type area pretty sensibly - products that are free from similar stuff together. It's easy to follow. Spelt flour next to gluten-free flour is just plain silly - and it is taking up valuable space.

    If it's clear why it is in the "free from" area, we know what we need to look out for. So, if I know it is gluten-free, I can then make a judgement about whether I need to check whether it is vegetarian.

    I agree that how things are laid out is important - and as the 'Free From' area is so small, they ought to manage it very carefully.

    Sadly my nearest independent health food store is eight miles away.

  • Free from is a very broad statement and I think most people who have intolerances, allergies or coeliac appreciate this and approach with caution, checking labels to ensure it doesn't contain what they personally need it to be free from eg the free from cake I buy isn't necessarily free from eggs, milk or soya as well. Also I think the concept of just 'wheat free' whilst not helpful to coeliacs, is becoming more prevalent and some stores have started offering a range of (in particular) flours and cereals that don't contain wheat but obviously do still contain gluten. So long as the product itself is clearly labelled so people can check for themselves and the product offers an alternative to a known allergen I'm ok sharing the shelf! :)

  • If you're on about Tesco, I told them the bags of Spelt flour shouldn't be touching the gluten free flour & they moved the spelt to the normal flour aisle. It would have been ok to stay on there, just not to be touching the Doves flour. I know some wheat intolerant people can eat spelt but not coeliacs.

  • I've just had a response:

    "I've spoken again with [name of Deputy Manager] in the store, who has now removed the spelt flour from the free from section. He has advised me that they have received a new merchandising plan, which he hopes will resolve the issues you've highlghted to us previously and also going forward. He has reiterated that at any time you have cause for concern do not hesitate to ask for him and he will do his best to resolve things for you."

    Last time I spoke to him he did damn all, but it's a result.

  • Hi I told my local Tesco store a few months ago about the spelt flour, it isn't touching the gf flour at our store just in that section. I just spoke to one of the people on the shop floor, I told them that someone who had just been diagnosed might not know it isn't gluten free and it could make them ill. At the time I thought it was just a mistake at our store.

    Have been back since and its still there, perhaps asking Tesco why it is on the free from aisle might be a way forward, asking the question that Claudio has asked " what is spelt flour free from"

    This is the same store which when bringing out a new range of free from biscuits made them with oat flour and put an advisory notice on the back saying that they may not be suitable for coeliacs, what sense does that make?

    Sorry to go off topic but regarding complaining about Tesco, I think there may be others complaining to them regarding their pricing of gluten free goods, on a facebook page last week there was a picture of some bread rolls, Be free ones for £5, there were 4 in the pack. Tescos were written to and they responded saying that the buyer had now negotiated a better price of £2.50.

    I wrote to them in March after it was noticed that they were significantly more expensive than other supermarkets for various gf goods and basically got advised that they give good customer service, clubcard points and gave money back if you could get your groceries cheaper.

  • Hi Claudio I do agree with you that spelt flour should not be stocked where it can contaminate gluten free flours and feel that this point is worth pursuing.

    There was a really interesting article on the BBC site that asked free from what and how most consumers assume that food in the free from aisles is actually a healthy option when in reality this is far from the case.

    Sadly the free from aisles cater for many 'special diets' and my biggest gripe is that many wheat free gluten free foods contain oats.

    Here's an article in the Telegraph the great gluten free scam:

  • Spelt has no place in a free from section because it's just another type of wheat flour. It should be under speciality flours for baking. I suppose this is just a misunderstanding on the part of the supermarkets, and yep, I also think this is worth pursuing with the supermarkets.

    Muesli containing wheat is a bit more debatable. How does that differ from all the other muesli products in the store? I don't buy the dairy free explanation, because there are plenty of other types of museli that are free from dairy. Wouldn't it be better placed in the healthy cereals section?

    I think in both cases it would be better for the supermarket to put these products elsewhere because then they will be seen by a wider customer base... all those folks not on special diets who are looking for flour or muesli.

  • Thanks - this is the point I'm making. The 'Free From' area is so small, everything there should earn its keep.

  • I wonder if the suppliers have anything to do with it? They probably make other kinds of genuinely free-from products, and hope to get a premium price for their regular gluten-containing products by sticking them in the free-from section where it is generally accepted that everyday foods like pasta and bread can cost four times as much!

  • I don't think that is the case - it's genuine incompetence is my best guess. The muesli was put in the wrong place - the label on the shelf referred to a gluten-free line but the product was a different line. They just weren't checking properly.

    Spelt is trickier - I've been told that it is lower in gluten and some people with coeliac disease may be able to eat it. It was the same manufacturer as the gluten-free flour so they may have been less clear. Head office ought to have put them right though.

  • I dont think spelt is tricky at all. Its just a different strain of wheat. While it does have less gluten - I've seen stuff suggesting it has maybe half the amount of gluten compared to regular wheat - it still has LOTS of gluten and shouldn't be eaten by coeliacs. I think some people with certain kinds of wheat intolerance can eat spelt, but they clearly have an issue with other components of the grain rather than with its gluten content.

  • I was being generous - a couple of people have told me that I could eat spelt (I probably could - and it could probably make me very ill, but I could still eat it...) so there is a lot of confusion around. I do think they ought to know better but I can see how it happens.

  • I think any way that we draw attention to free from is a good thing - we should be raising these issues - I hate it when the supermarkets put the free from section next to the bread aisle! Amazingly thoughtless but it does happen. I find that raising concerns, questions and complaints are acted on very quickly if posted on Facebook!

  • Marks & Spencer standardly seems to keep its gluten free items in the bread aisle. Beyond anything else, this seems like commercial suicide - putting it in the one place that most gluten-free buyers will actively avoid! I went virtually daily to a branch of M&S near work and didn't discover the GF food for months until one day I was in a hurry and took a shortcut down the bread aisle.

  • yes crazy and Marks and Spencer should know better! On Truly Gluten Free there was an article recently about airborne gluten - not sure what I make of that but I do hold my breath when I go past bakeries! I think my doctor would say that's neurotic!!

  • Maybe the products are free from additives, preservatives etc. I had this argument with a large university canteen some time ago.

    If you are a member of CUK they'd tell you to let them take it up.

  • I see where you're coming from - but I think there is a different expectation about 'Free From' areas i.e. that they are free from something that you would normally expect to find in the product.

    I managed the argument on my own. I appear to have won - well, for the time being at least.

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