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Retailers With Different Takes on Gluten-Free

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Every trade show we go to these days — Expo East included — brings out a collection of new companies and categories that have hitched on to the gluten-free bandwagon. This never ceases to amaze me, because although people with gluten intolerance need these foods, their numbers alone don’t justify the kind of expansion that’s going on. People are apparently giving up this widely used ingredient in droves, convinced it’s to blame for physical or emotional woes in their lives.

Can you tell I'm feeling a bit of gluten-free fatigue? Well, that's just me. At last week’s show I got a chance to ask the people whose opinions really count: retailers. Is there enough demand out there to justify the supply that’s rolling out?

I found there were those who are, like me, feeling the fatigue. Jim and Mellicha Ferrier, co-owners of the one-store Wild Farm Foods in Burton, Michigan, have been to all the major natural trade shows this year and say they’ve seen all the gluten-free foods they can stand. The two are looking to build a second store and came to Expo East looking for products to help expand their foodservice offerings. Rather than take on more gluten-free items, said Jim, they’ll probably stock more local foods in this and other departments.

“It just feels like the whole gluten-free thing is getting beat to death,” he said.

On the other side of the coin were those like Andrew Shober, a manager at Sunflower Natural Food Market in Woodstock, New York. He thinks the widening variety of gluten-free offerings is interesting, especially since innovations continue to close the taste gap between these foods and their conventional counterparts. Shober said his store has integrated gluten-free products in with the rest of the store, and uses shelf tags to differentiate these items and attract customer attention.

“It’s gotten to the point where gluten-free foods are almost the same quality as other foods in the store,” said Shober.

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