My local Vons is great for gluten-free shoppers. They carry a wide range of gluten-free products such as Udi’s breads, Schar’s pasta, and even desserts. It’s clear there’s a corporate mandate to attract the gluten-free shopper, to the point where the store installed a special gluten-free section.
Sure, the bright green sign is often obscured by cardboard dumps filled with gluteny foods like cookies, but I have come to appreciate the gluten-free crackers and quinoa.
But something has happened to make me very nervous. A few weeks ago, I noted Annie Chun’s Ramen in the GF section. Needless to say I was thrilled. Ramen! Then I looked at label and discovered wheat is a prominent ingredient.
Immediately, I spoke with a manager. Yes, I read every label of every food I buy, but not every customer does. The manager listened, took notes, and said he’d do something about it. And I watched, over the next few weeks, as nothing was done. Okay, I thought, need to escalate.
Today, I was shopping and noted a new pasta in the gluten-free section. Intrigued, I picked it up, read the ingredients, and noted wheat as the first ingredient. Again, this product was located in the dedicated gluten-free section of Von’s.
This time, I dragged a manager back to the section and, in front of another customer (this was coincidental, not directly intentional), pointed out the specific products, including the Annie Chun noodles, containing gluten and made it clear that if a customer accidentally ingested gluten, it would make them seriously ill. The other customer, who’d been shopping in the GF section backed away from the shelves and added to my comments.
The manager, who took me seriously, told me the products were shelved according to a corporate master plan. This means, to me, someone in a corporate office somewhere is placing gluten-filled products in dedicated gluten-free section.
This indicates the Vons and Safeway companies (Safeway being the parent company) are hiring people who don’t know what they’re doing to manage the planograms for their gluten-free sections — and that this ignorance could turn into a serious liability for the company.
I am a sophisticated gluten-free shopper, but not everyone is. People trust their retailers to do the right thing, and it’s easy to imagine what would happen if a well-meaning soul trusted Vons to the point where they purchased and served that wheat-filled product to someone with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
I can’t imagine Vons being this sloppy with their sugar-free products. I can’t imagine them leaving spoiled food on the shelves. And it’s really hard for me to fathom them deliberately merchandising foods that can make customers sick in a way that might confuse those customers.
Tomorrow I go back to make sure the products were truly removed.
Vons has worked hard to serve the gluten-free community, and this kind of sloppiness undermines their credibility on all levels. I hope this is the last time I have to write about this kind of mistake!