Mainstream food companies both giveth and taketh away gluten-free products.
Ironically for a company that has made a big splash with it's attention to gluten- free products, the announcement comes in the middle of Celiac Disease Awareness month.
Meanwhile, General Mills said it's Cheesy Hashbrown, Asian Chicken Fried Rice and Asian Beef Fried Rice Helper meals will no longer be made in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Although the ingredients will not change, the company says the meal mixes could be cross-contaminated with gluten.
To add insult to injury, the helper meals will now have a warning statement that they "May contain wheat."
Gluten-free versions of the meals may still be on store shelves - so stock up while you can. But be careful. Newer product not considered gluten-free could soon be on the shelf right next to the older boxes.
General Mills, which touts it's gluten-free commitment through a website devoted to gluten-free recipes and products, says this move is not a sign of reduced interest in gluten-free consumers. The company still has 300 products labeled gluten free.
But to me commitment means making choices that preserve the gluten-free nature of a product. How difficult would it have been to keep making the helper meals in dedicated plant? I suspect it's often easier to make a product in a way that does not put gluten free as a first priority. But doesn't commitment mean you do it even when it's harder?
I don't want to be overly harsh with General Mills. It was quick to get the word out about the change in production. And even without the helper meals General Mills remains a leader among mainstream companies making gluten-free foods. Their Chex brand cereals set an industry standard for how to easily and affordably convert an existing product to gluten free. The cereals are a staple in our house and I would be much more upset if Chex was the product getting its gluten-free label yanked.
It could be that the meals just weren't selling well, although the company did not make any mention of decreased sales in the announcement.
Instead, the company emphasized that its dedication to gluten-free goes all the way to the top, meaning the chief operating officer's wife, who has celiac disease.
If you have been following the gluten-free diet long enough, you know its not uncommon for a product that was gluten free to suddenly change or disappear entirely. Sometimes it's a change in how the product is made, others in the ingredients used to make it.
In the early 1990's Kellogg's made a cereal called Kenmei Rice Bran that was labeled gluten free and snapped up by gluten-free cereal lovers. Then it was gone.
The fear that gluten-free items won't last hovers in the back of the gluten-free consciousness. It's why we all get nervous when stories appear that say gluten free is just a fad. We worry that when the fad passes, companies will pack up their gluten-free labels and go home. While that wouldn't matter to people who've tried the gluten-free diet and moved on, it would make things much harder for those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance and will be gluten free for life.
Perhaps these fears are unfounded. Yes, Hamburger Helper meals are off our gluten-free list, but Frito Lay products are more assuredly on it.
It's just the give and take of the gluten-free world.