Thursday, April 1, 2010

Snyder's of Hanover - Meet the Medically Required Gluten Free Diet

The following information was sent to me by someone very respected in the Celiac/Gluten Free Community - Jules Shepard - after her recent experience at the Expo West trade show.  I completely trust Jules' knowledge and judgment on the following situation and thought it vital to share with you her unfortunate experience.  Jules met an executive from the company Snyder's of Hanover which makes snack foods distributed throughout the USA.  The executive in question, VP of Marketing Rudi Fischer very easily and plainly brushed off the seriousness of making Gluten Free products in a conversation with Jules.  Apparently, Synder's is beginning to roll out a version of Gluten Free pretzels to the GF marketplace and they also make several other snack food "Products Made Without Gluten Ingredients" - whatever that means.  Jules was shocked at the statements made by this executive when she questioned him about the potential of getting the product certified Gluten Free (like via the GFCO.org).

Jules was so disgusted by the attitude of this high ranking executive that she crafted the following letter below to the company's CEO - Carl Lee.  Jules has asked me to post the letter and encourage my readers to become educated on the attitude of Synder's of Hanover as a warning.  I also believe that we have a chance to provide our feedback and possibly educate this company on what the Medically Required Gluten Free Diet really is.  The letter is shown below.  Thanks for looking out for us Jules!
Mr. Carl Lee
President & CEO
Snyder's of Hanover
VIA FAX 717-632-7207
March 26, 2010

Dear Sir,
Your company has undoubtedly identified the gluten-free segment of the food market as a high-growth opportunity. You are about to learn how vital truly gluten-free foods are to the health of this same population – a population which can be very vocal when they think they are being taken advantage of and when their health is placed in jeopardy.

I met with your Vice President of Marketing at Expo West and engaged him in a discussion about your new gluten-free pretzels. I was initially excited about this brand new offering, but I soon became horrified at your company's reckless disregard for the safety of the population to which you hope to market this product.

When I asked about why Snyder's isn't GF certified, your VP of Marketing, Rudi Fischer, brushed off the notion, explaining that the company had explored the requirements of certification, and “didn't want the headaches” that came with it. He elaborated that Snyder's didn't want to have to do any product recalls or lose inventory because any given run may test at over 20 ppm gluten. He even threw out the example that if someone “forgot to wash down the line” between gluten and gluten-free runs, he didn't want to have to “report to anyone else, pull inventory or do any recalls of product”. He went so far as to say that although the bags are currently labeled “Gluten Free” and also “Wheat Free,” the company is actually going to take off the “Wheat Free” designation since the products are run with wheat products and are potentially contaminated with wheat. Shockingly, he indicated that the “Gluten Free” label will remain, however.

Your VP also said your company is not really concerned with the gluten ppm test results since, he said, “only 3 million people are celiac, and most of them don't even know it yet.” He identified your target market as “the other 22 million eating gluten free, just because.” He indicated that this market segment wouldn't really care if your products contained 20ppm or 23ppm gluten. Can he be serious? When I inquired as to why on earth Snyder's would enter this marketplace (with this approach), he answered, “Because Glutino is making a killing with their pretzels.”

This 3-ppm increase in gluten could trigger any number of symptoms in celiacs, or in those who “merely” eat gluten free, ranging from painful gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and cramping, to nutrient malabsorption, painful skin lesions, joint inflammation, fatigue, infertility and miscarriage, and of course, headaches – although apparently ours are not as serious as the headaches your VP indicated would come with gluten-free certification.

I spent the afternoon before the Expo speaking at the Healthy Baking Seminar to more than 130 manufacturers who wanted to get gluten free right. Small and large companies which are willing to invest in educating themselves about the onerous responsibility of gluten-free food safety as well as the market opportunity it represents.

They know, as I wish your company did, that gluten free is not just about a market opportunity. It is a responsibility manufacturers bear when they enter this marketplace. Did you do more than buy the SPINS report, or did you actually talk to gluten-free consumers? In any of your focus groups, did anyone say that a 3-ppm increase (or more) in gluten is acceptable? One-eighth of a teaspoon of gluten-containing flour can cause a chain reaction of painful symptoms in gluten-free consumers from which it may take weeks to recover. The manufacturers who take this responsibility seriously and produce good products -- the ones who do it right -- like Glutino, can make “a killing.” The ones who disregard the importance of the responsibility they bear, like Great Specialty Products (recently indicted in North Carolina on six counts of obtaining property by false pretenses by marketing bread as gluten-free that was not, in fact, gluten-free), will have far more to deal with than poor sales.

This is a critical juncture for Snyder's entering this market. As you will see, all eyes are now on you; you have the opportunity to do the right thing. If your product recovers from this misinformed beginning, it will be by finding an organization who is willing to train and certify you – and believe that when they walk out the door you will uphold their standards. It will also come from taking the time to understand your market and ingrain yourself into the gluten-free community by funding Celiac research, by supporting efforts to raise awareness for the needs of the gluten-free community, and by proactively lobbying for tougher -- not looser -- labeling protocols. Take the high road and redeem your company, leading the category by example, or your “gluten-free” products will fail and much good will toward your company will be squandered.

Sincerely,
Jules E. D. Shepard

Author,
Free For All Cooking
The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free
Nearly Normal Cooking for Gluten-Free Eating
I encourage you to contact Synder's of Hanover and introduce them to the Medically Required Gluten Free Diet.  Ask them if they understand the implications to a Celiac if Gluten is consumed.  Ask them if they should reconsider the "not worth the headaches" attitude of certifying their product as GF.  The GFCO certifies over 4,000 products, we certainly should spend our money on those products and not Synder's of Hanover if this continues to be their attitude.  I think with what we have learned from the Great Specialty Products incident, we are all a little less trusting of GF manufacturers... but that certification from a organization like GFCO goes a long way to restore that trust, no?

Voice your concern by contacting Synder's of Hanover CEO Carl Lee @ SOH@snyders-han.com or by using the companies Contact Us page.

Update -  It appears that Synder's of Hanover has now contacted the GIG to begin the process to certify their GF products via the GFCO.  This is a great start - let's hope they follow through.  If you do contact the company, please encourage them to follow through with this certification.  See Gluten Free Mom's Blog for more.

3 comments:

RugbyTurtle said...

WOW! Thank you for posting this and thank you to Jules for stepping up and speaking on behalf of the Celiac Community. I have no doubt that myself and others will write letters of concern to this CEO to further back up the importance of taking GF seriously.

marylandceliac said...

Snyder's announced on their facebook page on April 1 that the pretzels are certified gluten-free and they have been working with GFCO since last summer. Apparently, they couldn't reveal this until the contract was finalized.
http://glutenfreeoptimist.blogspot.com/2010/04/new-snyders-of-hanover-gluten-free.html

Skier Girl said...

Wow what an excellent letter! Thank you for speaking up. I previously loved Snyder's pretzels but now after knowing what shisters they are I wish I never enjoyed them. I might only try the new ones if they are GFCO certified! Thanks!

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