How Does a GLUTEN-FREE BAKERY Compete with a gluten-free bakery?

gluten free bakery
First, a quick Dude note: May is Celiac Awareness Month but I’ll be kicking things off a bit early. After much agonizing debate (said simply for dramatic effect), I’ve decided to go with the theme “30 Days of Helping 30 Fellow Celiacs”. The official start date of this will be Monday, April 14th.

Why so early? Well, after much agonizing debate (see what I did there), two things hit me: 1) Why wait an extra two weeks when I can begin helping people now and 2) I’ll be taking weekends off from blogging so the 30 days will actually be 30 posts over six weeks, concluding at the end of May.

So Lord knows, I’ve got a backlog of emails that I need to respond to but if you’ve got a question you would like answered and you’re in need of some help, contact me and hopefully I can squeeze you in.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be agonizingly debating who I should pick in my PGA Masters Pool.

Today’s blog post is a good one. Well…I’d like to think they’re all good, but you know what I mean.

Competition is a good thing. Nobody should be handed anything on a silver platter. But what if, like our political system (thank you Supreme Court…aaarrrggghhh), the competition is a bit slanted?

Let’s face it, if you walk into any supermarket and head to the gluten-free frozen section, there are one or two brands that absolutely dominate the shelf space. Does that mean they are the best products out there? I’ll leave that up to you to decide but I think you know how I feel.

But where it gets really interesting is when companies who do gluten-free right need to compete with companies who take short-cuts and who have decided profits are more important than people. All of the sudden, the playing field is skewed.

Read on from the email I received yesterday…

Ok. So I know you are super busy but I wasn’t sure who else to turn to. I will make this short.

I own a local GF bakery. Dedicated facility and all that jazz. I am also a nutrition coach that specializes in celiac disease and gluten intolerance. ( I have two celiacs in the house, who also happen to have duhrings disease ). So for me eating gf is of up most importance and I know the cross contamination factor is a HUGE issue too.

So here is my “problem”. There is a bakery here in town that offers gluten free food. GREAT! right? Well they say they are “certified” and safe for celiacs but we’ve gotten sick there. I’ve looked everywhere for their “certification” which they say came from CSA (they are NOT listed on their site anywhere).

I genuinely don’t mind competition; in fact I work closely with the other completely gluten free bakery in town. Where I have the problem is these people lying to folks and telling them they are safe for celiacs. How can that even be if they share square footage and ventilation with their “regular” bakery? To make issues worse they say they have a dedicated “kitchen” or space for their GF items which last checked was a partitioned wall with in the regular bakery itself.

So I guess where I am reaching out here is to ask a fellow celiac…What can I do? I don’t want to make myself look like an ass by calling them out but I’ve been checking into this and researching as much as I can and have always come to the same conclusion…they’re lying. That makes me so frustrated as a mom, a wife, aunt and friend of folks with celiac, most who are severe in symptoms. Of course it makes me frustrated as a consumer too. People deserve the truth.

Thoughts? Opinions?

Thanks GD! Always such a great help.

So I have a few quick thoughts.

1) A certification from CSA, if they have it, is not worth the paper is printed on. This is the same company who gave the celiac seal of approval to Omission Beer, even though it’s made with Barley and goes against everything CSA is supposed to stand for. Nuff said about that.

2) Though I am not doubting you at all, simply because you got sick eating there…to me…does not absolutely mean you got glutened. Yes, it’s very possible, but making the direct correlation is not fool-proof.

3) I absolutely hate what they’re doing. Either do gluten-free right or DON’T DO IT AT ALL. There is no middle ground for the safety of celiacs. I can only assume they see dollar signs dancing in their heads and decided offer gluten-free kinda half-ass.

4) As for what you can do…that’s a toughie. If you do a campaign against them, there may be a backlash against you. If you can get proof, and I mean absolute proof, that they are taking shortcuts, perhaps writing an article for your local paper comparing the two bakeries. But again, you may get backlash from the pseudo gluten-free people, if you know what I mean.

My suggestion…keep the focus on making your bakery the best gluten-free bakery it can be. Promote how you are doing it right without calling out the other company. As the awareness of celiac disease continues to rise, companies like yours will be where the people want to go to feel safe. Good luck!

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34 thoughts on “How Does a GLUTEN-FREE BAKERY Compete with a gluten-free bakery?”

  1. Agree with GD. Keep on doing what you are doing and doing it right. Emphasize how you leave nothing to chance, leave no crack for something to fall through. For celiacs, that is what will draw them to your shop – at least, it would for this celiac!
    Without solid evidence about their practices, it seems risky to call them out. And they can just be sneaky about it if they are of a mind to be (not saying they are), slipping through an investigation. It would be dicey for your own reputation if you were wrong.

    And GD – your point #3, yes! Don’t do this for money, do it to do the right thing honestly for the consumers. It’s no game.

    1. Thanks. Regarding #3, I have no problem with people making money from the community, and profiting handsomely even, if their heart (and their gluten-free practices) are in the right place. It’s a HUGE investment to open a bakery like this and I’d like to see them be successful. Just wanted to clarify what I meant.

      1. I would respectfully disagree with the prior poster: being something of a non-cook before my celiac diagnosis, I spent the first several years of being gluten-free eating Amy’s, which is made in a shared facility.

        I still stayed a little bit sick, was still lactose intolerant, and eventually got microscopic colitis for a few years, which is really awful.

        When I started following gluten-dude’s, “no shared facilities” rule, I had my lactose intolerance resolve after fifteen years. I’m less sick than I’ve been in twenty years, at the moment. If I could sue Amy’s because they make food in a shared facility, I would.

        This is a public health issue. There is not a way to compete with someone who has better marketing, but is lying. I think the letter writer should test products from the not-actually-gluten-free bakery, and write an article, if it’s true that they are not gluten-free. She would be doing her community a major public service.

        1. I totally agree with the importance of a clear dedicated facility. As some on this forum know, I refuse to eat out at all unless the facility is 100% GF – which essentially means I don’t eat out. I don’t buy packaged food – only raw ingredients I cook myself. I won’t eat at other people’s houses unless I am beyond doubt that they know how serious this is. I hate how in the US, something can be “GF” if it has less than 20ppm – GF means FREE of gluten, not below a certain level. Free means free.

          All I wanted to get across was that making accusations about someone’s business practices can be dicey, and without iron-clad proof it might do more harm than good to come out and blast the other company in public. Now, if she has actual proof (beyond personal experience of getting sick from there – though that definitely raises suspicions) it is a different story and it would make total sense to call them out. But I didn’t get the sense from the letter that she has that yet. By alerting others to the possibility as she has here, it might raise some questions and prompt an investigation, which would be great if it clears up the doubt.

        2. Forgot to add, the link that GD posted about the CSA problem with the beer had some info in the comments on the problems with testing kits and how those can be misleading sometimes – or at least how they can raise questions from some. I don’t know what the answer is about how to tell for sure, but I’m just saying it might not be as easy as putting a thermometer in a child’s mouth to see if there is a fever. I wish there were a way to figure it out and get through to people that there is NO safe amount of gluten and shared facilities are deadly.

      2. I know what you meant. 🙂 It is hard to do the GF thing. And I think what we get upset about (or at least I do) are companies that are trying to profit off the GF “trend” and don’t get that this is a disease for people with a real medical need. Not a game to exploit until the next trend comes along. I don’t think this letter writer is one of those, quite the contrary. And the other bakery, we can’t be sure of their motives, but I hope that they are also trying to serve a need fairly, not jumping on a trend bandwagon.

  2. What you have here is what we in the legal business, call a chain of custody issue; this is what she needs to do:

    Get a smartphone that will film for at least ten minutes. Park in front of the bakery with a batch of Glutentox tests, which you can buy at Gluten Free Mall, online, and then, test the stuff in your car, while continuously filming.

    It gets around your chain-of-custody issue. It’s proof that would probably hold up in court. If the baked goods test over 20ppm–there you go. You can write an article, and they might sue, but you’d win.

    Years ago, Mission Corn Tortillas did an interview talking about why they stopped saying their corn chips were gluten-free. One of their managers acknowledged that, in a shared facility, even away from the manufacturing floor, the air is probably 10ppm gluten. They said they wouldn’t sell something as gluten-free, if they takng a chance on making people sick. Their standards were that they wouldn’t say something was gluten free if it was not–not even in a large shared facility with separate lines. That is what a company with integrity will have as a standard for gluten-free.

    1. Just a comment on Mission, because ive been looking for GF tortillas lately. Mission corn tortillas are marked Gluten Free on the package, but the Mission website, when I checked, said they were produced in a facility with wheat tortillas.
      I’d love any suggestions for safe corn tortillas, btw 🙂

      1. And I thought I could no longer eat them because I’m sensitive to the added cellulose. Well that sucks. =0)

        Thank you so much for the correction.

        As far as where to get gluten-free tortillas?

        Maseca sells a certified gluten-free flour (tested to less than 20 ppm.) If you can get your paws on some and a tortilla press, I’ll send you a how-to video. (Gluten-free girl makes her own.)

        1. Incidentally, I don’t see Maseca’s certified gluten-free flour on their website, however, there is a picture of it on my food blog–I’m wondering if I got a lucky test run? I haven’t seen it in stores since I bought the bag I have.

          1. Well, no tortilla press. I haven’t heard of Maseca before, I’ll look out for it. Really hating the packaged GF tortillas available, so I may look into a tortilla press.

  3. Great advice GD… but the fundamental flaw here is policing and we’re all at risk of getting sick from gluten everyday, every moment and it sucks! Celiac Disease is still not being respected by FDA nor the hard working start-ups or establish brands of the world and that’s where the core focus needs to continue….

    In turn, we need to call out those establishments and brands that are doing it wrong, but we need proof. How do we continue to police this without proper facts and rely on our own symptoms, it’s also not entirely fair to do that because we’re all different, ahh! Thoughts?

    Gluten-Free = Safe for Celiac Disease

  4. Both bakeries should be frequently testing their products. Buy a kit and test their stuff to see what you get. If positive for gluten, then you should contact the proper authorities. Just Google Paul Seelig.

  5. GD-

    Great post. I am sure this will stir up a good debate. My thoughts are to keep operating the great GF café that you have and keep kicking ass. The backlash may be unpleasant and costly (emotionally and financially). The thing is if I get sick at a “GF friendly” place I just don’t go there again. And so on and so on. The place will fold eventually.

    Jersey Girl
    “Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
    She’ll beat you if she’s able.
    You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.”
    The Eagles

    1. Yes, that is what happened to me when I was first rx’d and I didn’t understand about shared facilities. I learned fast and don’t go to restaurants anymore. The bad thing is that this takes time, and having celiacs/GFers get sick and have real internal damage to their intestines in the process is a huge price. Too much.

  6. Sad thing is, when enough celiacs get sick at that bakery the word will spread.

    Have you thought about partnering up with the other good GF bakery to set up a closed FB group for the celiacs in your community? They could discuss some of the best places to eat and the places to avoid. I wish my community had a group like that.

  7. Maria Inês Oliveira

    Everytime I read this kind of comments I wonder if the persons who have a almost grain free diet aren’t totally right.
    Although it’s much more difficult to do it, it seems safer and healthier to do it.
    Regarding the bakeries itself, I think it’s amazing to open such a business. I don’t know how this gluten theme is in the US but here in Portugal is almost impossible to find gluten-free bakeries! Gluten sensitivity is not that common although growing.
    Congrats to the bakeries founders…I agree with the ones who wrote both bakeries should be testing frequently their products.
    The consequences can be dramatic and emotionally also devastating!

    1. Sally……there is a dedicated gluten free, nut free bakery in Millis, Mass., called Twist. They also have some dairy free options.I have been there twice and the food is phenomenal. They also serve brekkies and lunch, utilizing their own homemade gf bread. Soups, savory items and cookies, cupcakes, scones….the list goes on and on. I am a very sensitive, diagnosed Celiac and haven’t had a burp after eating there twice. I just put in an order for Easter because they have Hot Cross Buns!!!!!! Thank goodness it is a half hour from where I live or I’d be in trouble……check it out! : )

      1. Thanks Gemini! I just had to look up Millis, but it’s not too far from where I work. So I’m sure I’ll be down there soon 🙂

    1. I will kindly disagree Craig. It’s not rational to say “stop eating out”. We need to live our lives as risk-free as possible, but as long as we are celiacs, there will always be risks. We have to still live our life, and that life to me does not mean barricading myself in my house in fear of getting sick.

      I will always reduce the risk as much as humanly possible. But I will also live and enjoy my life as much as humanly possible.

      1. GD,

        I am merely pointing out that Celiacs take too many risks. Not to mention the overall gluten-free consumer take even more because they don’t take it as serious as a Celiac. It rocks my heart because it upsets me everyday hearing/seeing it…

        I eat out, too, and accept the risks ahead of me and refuse to hide from the world because those days are long gone. Like others, I have gone through my own journey but try to enforce research, preparation and questioning before food is even considered… the risks vs reward is simple = healthy mind and body always wins.

        The main message that we should consider together GD is (1) obtain a universal food/ingredient education (2) demand accountability by transparency (3) reduce your risks by trusting less (4) exercise your control by planning ahead and bringing snackies and hydration everyday (5) live and make love not war everyday because step 1-4 empowers your new reality

  8. #1. Do everything GF said.

    #2. Find yourself a friend or family member who can ask about the certification and such for you. Hate to say it, but your bias shows through as a business owner of the competition – its not a wonder why they wouldn’t talk to you about it. Someone removed from the situation can be more polite and yet firm about seeing the certification they say they have.

    If they truly do not have a certification and they are saying they are, it would be the time to talk to a journalist and explain that you’ve been doing some investigating and that you would like to see if your results can be duplicated by them.

    Lastly, use your competition as an excuse to do a market analysis. Maybe you need to shake up your product line to make sure the line of you and your competition don’t meet and that you’re not missing a “blue sky” opportunity (just a suggestion, many bakeries are missing some unique items in their line up, like donuts, sandwich cookies, ethnic foods (like empanadas, amaretti cookies, danish butter cookies), etc.). Maybe you need to talk to the press about your exclusive flour blend and show off your facility. Bust your butt on finding the things that make your bakery unique, and shout them from the rooftops at every PR opportunity you can (including walk in customers!).

    The other suggestion I am going to make is to make sure that you market how GOOD your bakery is to everyone. In most areas, there’s a limited GF audience, and if you market yourselves to only them, you limit your business reach entirely by design. Regular folks will pay $7 for a designer cupcake just like the GF folks. If you can understand the opportunity to make your bakery something awesome that the non-GF people like (while they’re still eating your GF food!), you will double or even triple your business reach. If you make a good ethnic food that’s hard to get, regular folks and GF folks will come in droves as well. Depending on where you are, it might be Latino driven, Italian driven, or Polish driven. Around the Chicago area, there was only one gf bakery that made gf paczkis and amoniaczk for the holidays – there’s money sitting on the table…

    Sigh…the MBA in me comes out whenever we start to talk about gluten free bakeries. Feel free to look me up on my website linked above if you want to chat about other ideas.

  9. Be proud of your dedicated self! I would love to know the name and city of YOUR bakery! (Though I get why you might not want to publish it during this discussion…but dedicated bakeries are so far and few between, I bet I’m not the only one reading who would like to know.)

  10. If you test it or try it and it is contaminated, do what I do, call the business and complain. Many don’t know the error in their ways, but when presented with customer fall-out sometimes they are willing to address the situation. If they don’t respond, write reviews in google, yelp, opentable, your local gluten free awareness group, or anywhere else you can get the word out. I imagine a good amount of people check these sites before they go, especially for the first time. If I see positive reviews I go, if I don’t I move on. Word of mouth makes or breaks businesses and with the internet, even more so.

  11. I would continue to do things as you are. Focus on your dedicated bakery and let it go. WHY? because in this case, (and I am turning the phrase around to suit my purpose) right means might.

    The dedicated facility will always win out because eventually, celiacs will get sick at the other one and stop going there.
    And anyone who knows what CC is all about—will not eat those “GF” goodies anyway.

    I recently had to edit a review I made on Find Me Gluten Free because I kept getting ill even though I had vetted the place. I finally figured out what they were doing wrong and I wrote them a nice letter explaining what they could do to change it and make it safe for celiacs. But, they did nothing. Why? they do not have the money. They lost my business,yes. Do they care? probably not.

    Cross contamination and test kits etc.–really hard to prove.
    It would just look like a vendetta of some sort anyway if they know you are the one behind it. Don’t go there, hon. You’re doing a good thing right now. Focus on that.

    Good luck with your bakery! Wish you were right next door–or not–my thighs probably don’t need it. 🙂

    1. So if you know a place is doing things incorrectly and making people sick, it’s okay to not say anything and let others figure it out on their own? I couldn’t live with that guilt.

      1. That’s not what I said at all. I did do something about it.
        I told the owners what to do.

        I did what I could within the parameters of the law without getting slapped with a slander or defamation suit. What can I do…walk out front of the place with a sign “do not eat here if you have celiac?” Just because I felt sick after? That’s not proof of anything.

        The person who told us this story knows that she felt sick after eating there. That’s it.
        It would be her word against theirs and honey, she will lose her business if she gets sued.

        Not worth it.

        We are all responsible for our health. We know CC can harm us, therefore, do not buy products made in a non-dedicated bakery.

        IMHO, as always.

        1. Well said, both the original and the response. Doing GF right, in a dedicated bakery, and focusing on highlighting how good they are to the public will bring in people who care that their food is safe – truly safe. It’s risky to go after the other company, especially when proof is hard to come by.

      2. It’s one thing if you’re a person who can talk to them about it. But if you’re a competitor, and all you’re doing is harping on the competition, it starts to sound like they are trying to destroy the competition and it drives the customers away, regardless of whether its about safety or not (and whether or not they are out to officially destroy the other business).

        The rules are more conservative about behavior when you start bringing business and customers into the equation.

  12. I was a dedicated gluten free producer, but it became so difficult to try to compete with the other so called “GF” companies out there that were baking in a shared facility. Most of which did not make any disclaimer on their packaging that their products were made in a shared facility. I had to stop production even though there is a demand for my products. it took me 6 months of re-thinking my business and how I was going to make it work. Well after much thought and really weighing all the options i have decided to still bake dedicated gluten free products although i have changed the direction of my company to be a producer of Medical Marijuana Gluten Free. I found that people were willing to pay the extra for Organic ingredients made in a dedicated GF facility in this market segment as well as knowing that the medicine they were eating was completely safe for them to eat. I have Crohn’s and am allergic to well over 50 types of food including wheat, barley….so while i might or might not be celiac i am still extremely sensitive to any amount. Maybe i am celiac i just haven’t been tested for that. they want me to eat gluten filled products and get sick in order to test me to see if it is positive. I don’t know for the life of me why they did not do this test when i Paid the $1600 for the allergy blood testing.

    anyhow I also will never eat products made in the same facility that has shared equipment. I only eat in a few restaurants that i know are safe for me after talking with the owners and or chef’s. but that is a very limited number.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

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I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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