Meeting the Needs of Food Allergy Shoppers
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
There are approximately 32 million Americans who must avoid at least one of the top nine food allergens due to food allergies or intolerances. For the estimated 85 million that are directly or indirectly affected by one or more of the top nine food allergens, a trip to the supermarket can be a daunting task. In the U.S., food allergy consumers spend more than $19 billion annually on food products to keep them healthy and they are highly engaged and valuable shoppers. Retailers who provide resources and product transparency to assist these consumers will benefit from their loyalty. Tiffany Leon, MS, RD, Senior Manager, Training & Professional Programs at FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the world’s leading non-governmental organization engaged in food allergy advocacy and the largest private funder of food allergy research toward treatment and prevention, provided some insights regarding how to help meet the needs of your customers with food allergy or caregivers to others.
- Offer education on label reading – Shoppers with food allergies and their caregivers must be avid label readers whether they are newly diagnosed or veteran shoppers. FARE offers some tips and guidance on what to look for on the food label, along with an educational video on how to read a label that you can share with customers.
- Highlight new allergen free food products – The FARE Food Allergy Consumer Journey study shows that 66 percent of food allergy consumers repeatedly purchase the same foods every time they shop to save time and know they are buying safe products. This presents an opportunity to showcase new national and private brand allergen free products to a loyal consumer group. Use social media and in-store displays to educate and engage shoppers on new, safe products to try.
- Assist parents with allergen-free kids – Back-to-school time and various holidays are ideal times during the year to provide parents with allergen-free solutions for their children. The school season brings up issues from school treats to lunches and snacks. Use social media and videos to highlight easy allergen free lunchbox meals and share these tips for non-food treats which are perfect for use in the classroom and during holidays. A week or two before Halloween, have your stores participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project which is meant to make Halloween more inclusive for all trick-or-treaters with non-food trinkets. Create a display to sell teal pumpkins along with non-food goodies only.
- Provide comprehensive allergen information in e-commerce – The food allergy community relies on accurate, comprehensive allergen information wherever they shop for food products, including online so work with your e-commerce team to ensure online shopping sites are being maintained accurately to provide up-to-date food allergen information – ingredient lists, “Contains” statements, and other precautionary allergen labeling information (e.g., “May contain”).
- Implement in store safety procedures – It is difficult but not impossible to execute more stringent safety protocols around food preparation and cleaning to help build trust. Help your stores review areas of possible concern and institute new procedures and training if needed.
- Partner with manufacturers – Food allergic consumers state frustration with selection and labeling in stores. Work with food companies to reinforce transparent messaging, selection and safety.
- Consider increasing your knowledge about food allergies - FARE provides access to training and resources to help you make grocery shopping safe and more inclusive for those managing food allergies. Their learning management system offers free and fee-based trainings on a variety of topics, many of which offer continuing professional education units (CPEU) credits through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.