What do food allergy consumers want and need from manufacturers? These are some of our thoughts.
You’re getting ready to cook your brains out for your food allergy-friendly holiday meal. You’ve hit the grocery store and picked up your preferred brands. (Though that makes it sound like a choice. If you’re anything like me, you stick with the brands you know are safe). The oven is preheating, and then
Just like that, things come to a screeching halt. You look, and look again, then a third time, and there it is. There’s been a change in the manufacturer’s formula. Your go-to is no longer safe for your family. You take a closer look. On the front, you see something that you missed before: “New and Improved.” I think most of us have been there.
What are you feeling at that moment? What do you wish for when it comes to manufacturers? When it comes to food allergy management, we aren’t in this alone. We have to learn to trust and understand food manufacturing. That is hard to do, though! Even when we eat at home pretty much all the time, no matter how whole-foods we go, there are staples that we need which are processed in some way.
What can food manufacturers do to help us trust them? For me, it’s all about communication. When it breaks down, it can really mess up the relationship we have built with these companies.
The front line of communication in the manufacturing business are the customer service reps. When we call or email, they are the ones responding from a general script. Having worked in a call center before, I can tell you that while training happens, how extensive it is really depends on the company. While I wish all companies did more training, these agents are trained for more general questions than the typical allergy consumer asks. Most people don’t care if there are other products run on the same lines. They couldn’t care less what the standard cleaning procedures and testing protocols are. While we want this information, I think it’s important to remember that many times, the questions we are asking are beyond the rep’s scope of knowledge. That may not be the answer you want to hear, but I think it’s important to remember this, and be kind in your interaction with them. Becoming belligerent or demanding isn’t going to inspire them to take the initiative to get the information from those in the know.
How they respond is so important too. Companies are getting away from the term “call centers,” because so much of the communication they receive is from non-traditional methods. Web forms, emails, social media: these are now bringing in more questions. Over the last two months, I have seen a few exchanges on social media that had me scratching my head, saying “Huh?” Companies that I absolutely adore are answering things in ways that make me cringe. I wonder if they see how that looks to outside observers watching these exchanges. We in the allergy community are fiercely loyal to brands we love, and if the trust is broken, I have seen things turn very bad, very quickly (unfortunately).
In my ideal food allergy world, every label would be accurate, listing every ingredient. Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing soon (for many reasons). The good news is that many manufacturers have people, or even full departments, devoted to food safety, including allergy management. I’ve been to food industry meetings where I learned so much from so many who truly are trying to keep us safe (thank you to FAACT for the amazing event you hold for the industry!) In lieu of that, we need tip-top communication from the manufacturers to help us make the best decisions for us. Ultimately, the decision on what is safe for our families is in our hands with their guidance.
You can read what I feel our responsibilities are in my last post here.