Domino’s pleases then teases the gluten free community
Tonight when I go home, I think I’ll announce at the kitchen table – in front of my wife and 5 kids – that we’re going out for ice cream and sorbet after dinner. Later, when my kids start asking if it’s time to go, I’ll tell them “Yes it is… but I just meant mom and I.” Why would I do such a thing? I’d like to know how the management of Domino’s feels right now.
On Monday, Domino’s made headlines with a bold press release pronouncing “Domino’s Pizza Becomes First National Pizza Delivery Chain to Offer Gluten Free Crust.” Buzz and excitement swirled around the online gluten free community faster than you could find the phone number for delivery. However, the enthusiasm came to a crashing halt, with some members of the celiac community feeling like they were “slapped in the face,” upon recognition that Domino’s was saying the new gluten free crust pizza was only safe for those with a “mild gluten sensitivity.” The new reaction: uproar.
As in much of life, there are two sides to every story. On one hand, I give Domino’s, partnered with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, FULL credit for trying very hard NOT to mislead anyone. They were very upfront and bold in stating this pizza was not safe for those with celiac disease or anything beyond a mild gluten sensitivity. The press release said it. The disclaimer on the bottom of the press release said it. The video they released about this new product said it. And apparently, their front-of-the-house staff is now trained to say it.
From their press release: “In an effort to remain open and informative about Domino’s Gluten Free Crust, Domino’s has created a video on YouTube that allows customers to decide whether this product is suitable for their diet.” Here is the video:
The disclaimer on that sign in the video is also on the bottom of their press release. It says: “Domino’s pizza made with a Gluten Free Crust is prepared in a common kitchen with the risk of gluten exposure. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness supports the availability of Domino’s Gluten Free Crust, but cannot recommend the pizza for customers with celiac disease. Customers with gluten sensitivities should exercise judgment in consuming this pizza.” As you can see, Domino’s went above and beyond what most companies would do to tell some people NOT to buy their product!
And let’s remember too that Domino’s released this gluten free crust only after undergoing a credentialing program from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) AND with the apparent blessing of the NFCA that this product would fill an important gap for some in the gluten free community.
My point (at the moment) isn’t to debate whether or not the NFCA was right to endorse this product (which they did most boldly in an article from Nation’s Restaurant News, “Domino’s debuts gluten-free pizza crust“), but rather to suggest that I think Domino’s believed they were doing a great thing for the gluten free community in releasing this product. Imagine for a second that you’re like most Americans who don’t know much about celiac disease, gluten sensitivities & intolerances, food allergies, etc. You decide you’d like to develop a gluten free pizza. What would you do? How about going to one of the top celiac disease organizations in the world and consulting with them. You might even go through a program to receive a credential from them and ask if they would be willing to endorse your new pizza as being appropriate for the community. If they agreed, you’d probably assume you did a great job. In my mind, Domino’s took the best steps a company could take without having prior knowledge of gluten intolerance and how to accommodate those with it. If you disagree, you might want to question the experts who gave Domino’s their guidance and ultimate endorsement.
That all said, let me now address the other side of this story.
I wrote an AllergyEats Blog post last November entitled “Celiac and gluten-intolerant guests should be careful of gluten-free menus” with the subtitle “Some restaurants aren’t offering true gluten-free meals, so always be vigilent when dining out.” The main point of the post was that restaurants across the country were rushing to come out with gluten free menus in order to capture this “new trend” while not understanding that “gluten free” doesn’t just refer to the ingredients, but to the process and procedures as well (this applies to any food allergy too). As a result, these restaurants were getting celiac disease customers sick quite often.
Looks like Domino’s is just the latest to make this same mistake.
Domino’s HAS developed a true gluten free crust that I would venture to guess would be safe if cooked in your gluten free home (it is made from rice flour, rice starch, potato starch, and water). However, like the other restaurants referenced above, Domino’s is not addressing the issue of cross-contamination beyond warning customers that “current store operations at Domino’s cannot guarantee that each handcrafted pizza will be completely free from gluten” and “even as clean as we keep [the kitchens], there are trace glutens present.” And let’s face it, that shouldn’t be a shock. Domino’s has over 5000 units, some quite cramped, many of which are franchised, and often run by very young adults. But I won’t give them a hall pass for that.
The bottom line is that they should either do it right or not do it at all. Despite all their disclaimers, the term “gluten free crust” is going to confuse some celiac customers and thus this product IS going to get people sick. Very sick. (This also will not do wonders for their business reputation.) Some restaurants will just NEVER be able to appropriately accommodate gluten free customers or those with specific food allergies. That’s okay. Much worse is to do it just 50% of the way.
And that’s what surprises me about the endorsement from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. They are the experts. They are the advocates. And I’m sure they went into this feeling that if the millions of individuals with mild gluten sensitivity (I’m trusting others for that number) could now enjoy a new pizza option, their organization should enthusiastically embrace it. But to me, the alarm bells go off immediately with Domino’s using the moniker “gluten free.” In my book, that implies a gluten free product or meal, not just gluten free ingredients.
Interestingly, Alice Bast, President of the NFCA shares the following two back-to-back quotes in Nation’s Restaurant News. “You have got to do this the right way or not at all” followed by “I will not eat [this gluten free crust pizza] at one of the restaurants because they can’t guarantee that it’s gluten free because of the possible cross-contamination.” Now, the NFCA is a wonderful organization and a valued partner of AllergyEats, but even partners are allowed to respectfully disagree and I most certainly do disagree with the NFCA giving their blessing to this product, even though I am sure the organization did what they felt was right for millions.
Can we all understand yet why the celiac disease and “more than mild” gluten intolerant community is so infuriated?
Another great celiac disease organization, and AllergyEats partner, the Gluten Intolerance Group, decided to post an official statement about this new Domino’s gluten free crust pizza. In it, Cynthia Kupper, Executive Director, shares the following quotes. “Food services should approach gluten free meal options the same way they handle allergens. There is only one option – food that is safe for all persons living gluten free, no matter why they are living gluten free.” “While GIG [Gluten Intolerance Group] appreciates Domino’s desire to offer a gluten-free pizza, we do not feel the effort put forth demonstrates a true commitment toward making a safe environment for producing gluten-free food.”
Now that’s a lot to digest. Oh… sorry… bad pun.
Time to share YOUR thoughts! What do you think about this new gluten free crust pizza? Is it better to at least accommodate the “mild gluten sensitive” patrons if you can’t accommodate all? Is the NFCA right in endorsing this product? And if you are gluten free, would YOU eat this pizza? Please click Comments or Reply below and tell everyone what you think.
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