Alright, alright, I really don’t want to sit here and write 400 words about mega-discount retailer Wal-Mart, but man, you’ve got to give that company serious points. It is leading the way in labeling allergens on its private-label products — especially gluten-free!
Some private label goes gluten-free
Back in 2005 Wal-Mart announced it would begin labeling its Great Value private-label (a.k.a. generic) products gluten-free. Not only does the company do that, but it goes so far as to explain what other allergens are in the food or processed in that facility. So why am I writing about it now? To be honest, I hadn’t been shopping there for years because my husband worked at Wal-Mart’s primary contender…ahem. But since he’s been laid off, I went back to Wal-Mart and that’s when I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Great Value products to find out what is gluten-free and what isn’t.
According to a 2006 article in Private Label Magazine, “Of the nearly 1,300 items in the Great Value portfolio, about 900 are labeled gluten-free”. Hy-Vee grocery stores have a gluten-free product listing as does Wegman’s but I can’t say whether they actually label their products. Labeling the box or a container gluten-free takes a major commitment. A company has to have an agreement with their supplier that they will remain gluten-free and not change ingredients on them on a moment’s notice or without telling them. Because any ingredient or allergen change could cost thousands, if not millions in new labels and packaging.
I have found the words “changing suppliers” and “changing ingredients” are the most-often used reasons for not confirming, or making it difficult to confirm, private-label products as gluten-free. In order to know for sure, you must have every lot number and UPC code available on the container and call the company — that is if there is a phone number even on the box.
Gluten-free changes coming?
Experts in this industry are watching to see what private labels do next. A 2008 article in Gourmet Retailer magazine explained how the label “gluten-free” and others like “probiotic” and “low-fat” are among the top ten health and wellness claims for food. “Marketers would be wise to keep an eye on these trends for private label opportunities,” the report said.
If those marketers are reading this post — we celiacs would love to see more of this! I thoroughly enjoy the fact that we can have a box of augratin potatoes now! They may not be the best for us, but I haven’t purchased them in 10 years because of Emma’s celiac diagnosis. Now I have them available if we want them, or I can make a healthier version from scratch.
But the bottom line is — ultimately Great Value is giving me the choice (and a cheaper one at that) and so far it appears Wal-Mart is running above and beyond the competition in this category.
Note: if you know of another retailer who is doing gluten-free labeling on its private-label products let me know and I’ll check it out and blog about it!