Shell-shocked is the adjective that Dorothy Lane Market store associate C.A. Diltz uses to describe the mood that often accompanies shoppers seeking her advice.
Most have recently been diagnosed with a life-altering condition accompanied by dietary restrictions that permanently change their relationship with food and the way they shop.
“When a doctor gives you this news it's just so mind-numbing,” said Diltz, who is one of the Dayton, Ohio, retailer's recipe highlighters and its gluten-averse allergy guru. “I help people find items that are in accordance with their dietary needs. Our shoppers depend on us to help them make smart decisions about their menus.”
A growing number of Dorothy Lane shoppers are consulting with Diltz about foods that are free of gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Members of the community who've adopted gluten-free diets are often required to do so because they suffer from celiac disease, which strikes one in 133 Americans, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Gluten-free foods are also providing relief for consumers who suffer from autism, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
When people suffering from gluten sensitivities consume foods that contain the substance, their bodies are left unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Symptoms ranging from bloating and gas to fatigue and depression, joint pain, infertility and discolored teeth can ensue.
Through its offer of shopping tips, gluten-free food lists and even support group membership, the three-store retailer is building its reputation as a trusted advisor.
DLM's efforts to highlight its gluten-free food offerings began about five years ago in its aisles where shelf tags are used to identify these items. Foods that are free of gluten are dispersed throughout the store and merchandised alongside their conventional counterparts.
If an item is naturally gluten-free, like an apple, it won't get a tag since it's obvious that this item doesn't contain rye, barley or wheat, noted Diltz.
With her help, DLM also began drafting a list of gluten-free foods and posting it on its website to save shoppers from having to mull over the tiny print in ingredient labels. It's comprised of about 400 items, including bestseller Blue Diamond Natural Nut Thins.
Although meat products seem intuitively gluten-free, DLM shoppers are sometimes surprised to learn that certain items in its meat cases contain wheat.
“There is a bit of a gray area with items that should naturally be gluten-free but aren't, like meats that have been injected by their manufacturer with a water and wheat solution to make them plump,” explained Diltz. She clues consumers into secret ingredients like these during store tours conducted for gluten-free shoppers. Diltz also lets consumers know that some of DLM's value-added meat selection — like its bangers — are made with bread crumbs that contain gluten, while its pecan-crusted and potato-crusted tilapia are gluten-free.
Dorothy Lane Market's tags and lists are also clearing up some of the confusion surrounding whether certain items contain barley or rye.
Current law requires manufacturers to list any of the eight most common food allergens, including wheat, on their packages. However, they are not required to list other gluten-containing grains like barley or rye. It's possible that these grains could be hidden within the ingredient list under the guise of “natural flavors.”
Diltz also plays a part in making sure that new gluten-free products that end up on DLM's shelves are items that she herself would eat.
“Gluten-free eaters sometimes look at ingredient lists and say, ‘There are no “real” ingredients in here so I guess it's safe to eat it,’” explained Diltz. “But items containing dyes and additives can complicate their lives in other ways. Just because something is gluten-free, doesn't mean you should eat it.”
Since Diltz suffers from gluten allergies, she usually taste tests items that DLM's grocery buyer is thinking about sourcing.
“He often gives me samples so that I can let him know if they're in a price range for our shoppers.”
Such considerations are important since a loaf of gluten-free bread costs about $6. Diltz noted that breads and pastas are DLM's biggest gluten-free sellers and many of its new gluten-free offerings arrive at its shelves by way of customer request.
Because of this, the gluten-free merchandising mix offered in its Washington Square location vary from the offerings in its Oakwood store.
Dorothy Lane Market has gotten a better handle on its gluten-free shoppers' desires since it began hosting a monthly Gluten-Free Food Lover's Club meeting.
“The other support group [that convenes] in Dayton focuses on the disease, but I wanted to focus on foods that gluten-averse shoppers can eat and are good for them,” explained Diltz. “I wanted to discuss ways for not letting the celiac condition rule their existence.”
The retailer prepared for its first get-together last October by culling the names of shoppers who've purchased gluten-free food items in the past. The next time these consumers made a purchase at the point of sale, a small invitation was automatically printed out and presented to them along with their receipt.
DLM was able to identify these consumers by searching for specific stockkeeping units in the database of its Pay by Touch system that tracks shopper purchases. The technology facilitates the creation of lists that include 10 targeted offers. Shoppers can access their personalized list by scanning their fingertip at an in-store kiosk.
About 25 shoppers attended DLM's first Gluten-Free Food Lover's Club meeting that concluded with a store tour.