By Stephanie Ortenzi
By Stephanie Ortenzi
Thanks to an engaging editorial project this spring with Tina Brillinger and her site www.globalfoodsafetyresource.com
(Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR)), I learned about some new Health
Canada labelling regulations that came into effect in early August.
Thanks to an engaging editorial project this spring with Tina Brillinger and her site www.globalfoodsafetyresource.com (Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR)), I learned about some new Health Canada labelling regulations that came into effect in early August. These regulations will help put celiacs and gluten-sensitive individuals in a better position when choosing what they can safely eat.
Also, in tandem, I learned about Canada’s new gluten-free certification program that’s endorsed by the Canadian Celiac Association and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This gives the Canadian Gluten-Free Certification Program the kind of authority and general heft that their seal now has in the marketplace.
As a population, we generally understand that celiacs can’t eat gluten and that gluten can be found in wheat and similar grains. What most of us don’t know is that it’s an autoimmune disease with the only treatment being a completely gluten-free diet. There’s no medicine to take to make it OK to freely eat from the sources most of us take for granted when buying our food.
What the new regulations make clear – especially for those who need to study the fine print that guides the safe packaging and labelling of foods – is the official definition of gluten. Subsection B.01.010.1(1) of the new labelling regulations defines gluten as follows:
Gluten means (a) any gluten protein from the grain of any of the following cereals or from the grain of a hybridized strain that is crated from at least one of the following grains – barley, oats, rye, triticale, wheat – or (b) any modified gluten protein, including any gluten protein fraction, that is derived from the grain of any of the cereals referred to in paragraph (a) or from the grain of a hybridized strain referred to in that paragraph.
How the new labelling will impact the baking sector has yet to be seen. Three million Canadians suffer because of gluten, and with such a significant niche market in danger of ill health because of undisclosed gluten ingredients, it must have crossed the minds of many bakery operations – despite dealing day-in and day-out with celiac kryptonite – to seriously consider serving the celiac market.
Surely the baking sector is one that can find its way around gluten, but it involves considerable investment. Getting certified gluten-free requires monitoring operations from the back-end and all along the production line, including the facility. For a baking operation already making products with gluten ingredients, it means spending time and money to make a full production line and facility gluten-free (and, in some cases, establishing a completely new, separate and dedicated production line).
Some big players have already started, but they’re curiously outside the sector. PepsiCo used four facilities certified gluten-free to produce six varieties of potato chip entitled to the gluten-free seal.
Although that seems a no-brainer, since potatoes are safe (flavourings, though, not so much), what PepsiCo did was identify a sector of that niche market that wants to do what all celiacs want to do, according to one of my sources: to shop where everyone else shops, rather than at a specialty store or along a portion of a grocery aisle that caters to special diets.
This source explained the four submarkets that the certifiers have their eyes on: celiacs, people with gluten sensitivities, the halo group (a great name to identify the shoppers who have a celiac family member and would like to buy gluten-free for the entire family), and finally, people who choose to eat gluten-free because they perceive it as a health benefit.
That last submarket is a giant waiting to emerge. There is so much riding on our culture’s desire to eat a more healthful diet that serious health shoppers are taking a good look at gluten.
Diagnoses of celiac disease are on the rise. Health Canada says a growing understanding of the impact of gluten on digestive health has put individuals and health-care professionals in a better position to identify the sources of digestive complaints. It has also led to what’s being called the gold standard of celiac disease detection – small bowel biopsy.
Celiac disease is no picnic, which makes it also worth watching to see if gluten goes the way of peanuts and balloons in environments where children spend a significant part of their time. Until then, our industry is awash in the stuff that can drop nearly 12 per cent of our population to their knees.
The guiding principle of whether or not to get into the game is likely to be expense, but maybe there’s something else.
Why not leave the specialty products to the specialists? Form alliances with reputable, reliable and certified suppliers that can deliver 100 per cent on dietary safety. Then tell your customers about them, or find a way to safely merchandise them and stock them yourself. Everyone will win.
Stephanie Ortenzi (www.pistachiowriting.com) is a Toronto-based food marketing writer.