Expert Column: Are Grocers Missing the Allergen-specific Mark?
In recent years, there has been a surge of gluten-free, GMO-free and allergen-specific products in grocery stores. However, with the advent of social media, stores must do more than just supply the products: they need to get the word out, connect with audiences and support inclusive healthy living.
Listening directly to and implementing the desires of consumers is a pure necessity for keeping retailer loyalty intact. I asked several social media influencers to relay their supermarket experiences and insights about shopping for diet and allergen-specific products. Consumers are on the lookout for better information to enhance their grocery shopping experiences. Here is precisely what shoppers see lacking in their local supermarkets:
There is a categorical need for designated aisles for allergen-specific products.
“I wish there was a designated section for those with peanut and nut allergies. While my son has other food allergies, nut allergies are the most common and it is really hard to read every single label. If they had a separate area for products that are totally nut-free (meaning not even processed with possible contamination), that would help a lot of moms and dads. I have it down to a science now, but when I first found out about his allergies, it took me at least an hour or two to go shopping. I would also love them to promote more allergy free products if they do not do a separate aisle. It makes it easier if supermarkets can point us in the right direction.”
– Melissa Weintraub Pezza of The Mommyhood Chronicles
“What's lacking in specific dietary options are not only a variety of options, but a lack of initiative on the part of supermarkets in highlighting these sections. Many are slowly creating 'natural and organic' sections and aisles, which is great. But like others have said, a nut-free section or dye-free section would be awesome. Even a tag below products (like sale tags) would help.”
–Selena Kohng of How About Cookie
Packaging labels and ingredient lists should cater to simpler and more explicit guidelines,
“My biggest issue when looking for allergen free foods [is that] so many ingredients have been changed and taken apart that it's hard to identify what an ingredient actually is. Is it corn based? Is it soy? The trend to label everything as 'may contain' or 'may be manufactured' is also hard. As a consumer, I simply don't trust that marker and therefore don't purchase anything with it now, which eliminates more foods. I would LOVE to see stores have a list on their website or a tear off sheet we could take with us for common allergens with all the different names because a) there are a lot and b) they change names, which would make things easier.”
– Melissa Price of Honest & Truly
“When I am shopping in a grocery store, I look for products that say 'gluten free' and even better when they say 'certified gluten free.' Many products just don't put that information on their packaging. And because gluten is hidden in so many ingredients, if your packaging does not say 'gluten free,' I won't buy it, even if your website says that the item is gluten free. Every company has a different standard for marking their packaging and it makes finding gluten free items extremely difficult.”
– Summer Len Davis of Dirty Floor Diaries
Many supermarkets lack alignment or consumer feedback in their messaging.
“I would love to see more seasonal items, like pumpkin items in fall or Valentine's treats for example, in major retailers. We find some in the more health food stores, but even then, not many. I wish there was a clearer process for requesting products. There are so many great allergy friendly products consumers could recommend to stores.”
– Christy Comes of Motherhood Unadorned
“Stores can do a better job of organizing their PR messages around specialty diets. [This includes] social media content, blog posts, newsletters and coupons!”
–Selena Kohng of How About Cookie
Final note: The power of customer recommendations cannot be ignored in today’s sharing economy. As food and wellness trends evolve, grocery retailers must listen more intently to the wants and needs of their customers. Where are these wants and needs being voiced? On blogs and social media. To connect with audiences on a greater and more direct scale, take note of influencers and the insights they wield.