As a post script to my earlier blog on the YouGov freefrom survey – Asda have, this week, launched the new Nestlé gluten-free cornflakes in the main breakfast cereal aisles of their stores. This raises two interesting questions. Is this the start of serious engagement on the part of the multi-nationals in gluten-free/freefrom? And is ‘freefrom’ finally breaking cover out of the supermarket dedicated ‘freefrom’ fixtures into the main aisles?
Nestlé’s cornflakes first appeared in July and while it is obviously encouraging to see any multinational engaging with ‘freefrom’, making a gluten-free cornflake is scarcely food manufacturing rocket science. A cornflake is, by definition, gluten free. However, the Nestlé ‘original’ did include a small amount of barley malt so some recipe tweaking was required. Nonetheless, such a launch does not signal a major commitment unless some very much more exciting products are lurking in the wings. So, are Nestlé merely box ticking by ensuring that they have at least one gluten-free product on the shelves?
One has to ask the same question about the Heinz gluten-free pasta and tomato sauce range which came out 18 months ago. The pasta was welcome, although joining an already crowded field; the tomato sauce? Well, fine as an accompaniment to a pasta but even more of a no-brainer than a gluten-free cornflake. When has a tomato sauce ever contained gluten? And that was nearly two years ago and no further products have followed. Were Heinz too just ticking a box or have they been so disillusioned with the products’ poor performance (the industry buzz is that the sauces bombed and that the pasta has only performed moderately well) that they shelved further freefrom launches?
Which all goes to prove the point made very eloquently at last week’s FDIN summit by Chris Hook, MD of Newburn Bakehouse, Warburton’s gluten-free baking operation: if you are going to do ‘freefrom’ you have to seriously commit to it and commit to it in depths. Warburtons’ early forays into gluten-free were pretty disastrous as they assumed, as the UK’s leading baker, that they understood baking and that included gluten-free baking. But they didn’t and their early gluten-free breads were panned by all and sundry. But, rather than withdrawing into their comfy gluten-filled shell, Warburtons took deep breath, engaged Chris who had spent 20 years creating gluten-free breads, built a dedicated gluten and dairy-free bakery and invested serious cash into learning about gluten-free and how to make it successfully. As a result their gluten-free business is now booming and they are supplying gluten and dairy-free wraps and ‘sandwich thins’ to half the coffee shops in the UK!
The other interesting question is about the siting of the Nestlé gf cornflakes in Asda’s main breakfast cereal aisles.
Opinion among freefrom shoppers is very much divided on this one. Regular freefrom purchasers find it quite convenient to have all of the freefrom products that they normally buy in one place – speeds up the shopping trip no end. Some of the more sensitive also feel that having them all in one place reduces the risk of contamination although within a busy supermarket contamination is always going to be a risk. You cannot keep a child eating a packet of peanuts out of the free from fixture or prevent flour from the in-store bakery being blown all round the shop by the air conditioning. Others who do not exclusively buy freefrom would like to be able to pick up their freefrom breads, biscuits, pies, pizzas on their way round the store rather than having to go to the ‘freefrom ghetto’.
From the manufacturer’s point of view, although they might lose a couple of dedicated freefrom shoppers worried about contamination in the main aisles, would they not gain lot more of that ever growing band of ‘lifestyle’ freefrom shoppers? Seeing a freefrom cornflake or pasta next door to a regular one, might they decide to try it when why would never have gone to the freefrom aisle to find it. This was certainly ‘organic’s’ experience when it was moved into the main store – purchases shot up.
But, of course, from the supermarket’s point of view, although the overall sales may increase, it presents them with a bit of an organisational and logistical nightmare. While freefrom remains in a dedicated fixture, one buyer who (hopefully) understands freefrom, deals with it. But once you start putting it into the main aisles then either you have to have two buyers (the breakfast cereal buyer and the freefrom buyer) dealing with one product category, or else the breakfast cereal buyer has to learn all about freefrom! Neither of which are appealing prospects.
So, good or Asda for trying it and – watch this space…