Gluten-free Food for Thought
By Laura Sandonato
An associate discusses her store's approach to pleasing gluten-free shoppers.
Gluten free is a growing sector of the grocery business. Because evidence that eating gluten-free is beneficial for those with a number of ailments, more and more people are looking for gluten-free products, and they're always searching for something better-tasting.
Gluten-free baked goods, including bread and cookies, often don't taste the same as their conventional counterparts. Given that most people don't eat exclusively gluten-free foods from birth, shoppers feel deprived when they can't have bread anymore.
Our customers at the Cranberry Township, Pa., Giant Eagle are forever in search of products that aren't just gluten-free, but also taste like the "real thing," while still delivering the necessary nutrition. Manufacturers are constantly improving their products and introducing new ones to meet this demand, making it difficult for customers keep up with the changes. To help our customers while increasing sales of gluten-free items, we created a gluten-free section.
Our store manager, Alan Sandonato (who is also my husband), began noticing a surge in customer requests for gluten-free products about two years ago. As more customers asked, he brought in more products. When customers realized that our gluten-free selection was expanding, we received even more product requests, so my husband brought those items in, too. He soon had too many products to add to the aisles, so he made a separate section for gluten-free products.
Customers who shop for gluten-free items appreciate that they only have to go to one spot. They know that everything is there, and they don't have to search the store for foods that meet their needs. Having everything in one section has paid off because when we add new products, customers notice them. They don't have to take the time to browse.
Our gluten-free section involves a lot active management, but it's worth it in the end. Not only did we add customer-requested products to the gluten-free section, but we also added products that we made sure other people wanted — not just our customers — by bringing in items that people everywhere rave about.
Gluten-free manufacturers are innovative, so new products are constantly coming out, and old ones stop selling because the new products taste better. Consequently, Alan constantly researches gluten-free products and reads product reviews. He diligently follows celiac association websites and works to bring in products based on his research (right now, there seems to be a trend toward portion-control packages because usually it's just one member of a family who needs to eat gluten-free food). He then has to make sure customers are aware of new items.
Additionally, because so many products are inherently gluten-free and many top-name products are now gluten free, we can't fit every gluten-free product into our section, but we try to communicate to our customers that these items are available in other locations in the store. Our dietitian helps us with this by creating gluten-free samples.
While most stores don't have a dietitian and some may not have the space or a high enough demand to justify a separate gluten-free section, the gluten-free segment is growing quickly because of innovative manufacturers and increased demand. With a little time, effort and creativity, any store can find a way to meet this demand while keeping up with current trends and research in gluten-free food in a way that makes sense for each store individually.
570 Lake Cook Rd, Suite 310
Deerfield IL 60015
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