(Seattle, Wash.) The commitment of PCC Natural Markets (PCC), the nation's largest natural foods retail cooperative, to responding to the needs of consumers unable to tolerate gluten in their diets has been recognized by The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG). PCC is the first retailer in the country to be "gluten-free endorsed" by GIG, setting a new standard for retailers concerned with the special dietary needs of their customers.
GIG is a national non-profit that provides support to persons with intolerances to gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat, rye and barley. A true gluten allergy, called celiac disease, can cause serious and even life-threatening immune responses when grains containing gluten are consumed. Reactions can include damage to the small intestine and malnutrition, due to the body's inability to absorb vital nutrients.
Gluten allergies can be controlled only by avoiding all foods containing gluten. Identifying gluten-free products can be challenging; currently there's no requirement that food manufacturers test their products prior to claiming them as "gluten-free."
PCC identifies products as gluten-free based on information provided by vendors but recommends that customers review product ingredient lists themselves as an additional safeguard. Under consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is a national standard of 20 parts per million, although GIG has called for an even tighter standard.
PCC worked with GIG closely for 18 months to ensure compliance with GIG criteria for gluten-free product identification and handling, and has developed and implemented comprehensive staff training and consumer education programs about gluten intolerance. PCC offers about 2,000 gluten-free food and body care products, as well as gluten-free store tours, and gluten-free cooking classes through its PCC Cooks program. Gluten-free information also is offered in PCC stores and online. Gluten-free products are marked with orange shelf tags in PCC's nine stores and easily found through a searchable gluten-free database on PCC's Web site.
"We're honored to be recognized by The Gluten Intolerance Group as the first gluten-free endorsed retailer in the country," said Russ Ruby, PCC's director of merchandising. "Helping our shoppers to make safe product choices has been well worth the resources we've devoted company-wide to this effort."
Throughout the month of May, PCC will celebrate its gluten-free retailer endorsement through a multi-media promotion campaign focused on making consumers aware of gluten intolerance and informing gluten-free shoppers of all the foods available to them for good health.