The key is to highlight the products with special in-line fixtures, said Hauptman. He cited metro racks, four-foot curved gondola shelves, front-of-shelf strips and blades that frame the special offerings as examples of merchandising materials supermarkets should consider.
Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market had a single celiac disease-centric space in every store years ago. Today, the supermarket subscribes to Hauptman’s subsection strategy.
“Over the past 15 years, we have integrated products throughout the store until we no longer had a dedicated gluten-free section,” said Tom Winter, the independent retailer’s vice president of marketing. “We regularly check movement of all gluten-free SKUs and only stock three to four wheat-free or GF products in each category. We taste test every gluten-free product in-house to determine which ones to carry.”
Gluten-free products at Dorothy Lane are called out with shelf talkers, perpendicular circles and frames in every department where present. The three-store chain also hosts gluten-free vendor events with multiple manufacturers on-site offering samples of the products sold in the store. Vendors and store employees are on hand to direct shoppers to the exact location of each product within various departments.
The category has grown to the point where shoppers don’t want to be inconvenienced having to visit multiple places in the store — one spot for gluten-free and another for standard varieties, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill.
“Far too many supermarkets still have gluten-free sections with everything from pasta to snacks,” he said. “This would be wonderful if the 30 or so products stocked there are the only things the person eats and if everyone in that household consumes GF exclusively. But this is rarely the case.”
Wisner believes that retailers without integrated merchandising programs for gluten-free could eventually lose market share to those who cater to customers’ needs for convenience.
Maria Brous, spokesperson for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, disagrees, citing reasons why a dedicated section makes sense. For one, shoppers stopping by segregated gluten-free sections are there for a reason and therefore are more likely to notice unique items that would get lost in the sea of sundries stocked elsewhere.
These sections can also help the retailer analyze its gluten-free offerings, testing them before deciding to make room in other parts of the store, she said.
Read more: Supermarkets Become Gluten-Free Guides
“We have been actively seeking and adding gluten-free items for our customers and in many cases, we pick up lower-volume items that cannot maintain their place in the regular section, but sell well in a gluten-free area,” said Brous. “And, as the products in our GF section become more mainstream, we try to integrate them into their traditional product sections.”
While many supermarkets have drawn a parallel between merchandising strategies applied to organics and gluten-free goods, Highland Park’s Cummiskey points out a major difference.
“People choose to eat organic, but shoppers with celiac disease don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “If we don’t carry enough GF products and don’t merchandise them in a way that meets all the needs of our customers with gluten issues, they will go somewhere else to make their purchases.”