Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gluten Free and The Big Three

A couple of days ago, there was a letter to the editor in our local newspaper from a visitor from Michigan. He remarked that he saw many bumper stickers advising him to “buy local,” and he wanted to understand “just how locally and to what products the fine people of the Northeast extend this philosophy to their purchasing practices.” In particular, he was referring to the preponderance of non-American cars, and he urged Vermonters to take a look at American cars and commented that the big three have made great strides in the last few years.

It was a thought-provoking letter. Six years ago, we turned in a gas-guzzling American SUV with 75,000 miles for a Prius. With 160,000+ miles on the odometer and still going strong, we have no intention of buying a new car any time soon. When we bought our Prius, not only were there few fuel-efficient American vehicles, but the existing SUV’s didn’t hold up well as all-season vehicles on the back roads of Vermont.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what domestic versus foreign automobiles has to do with gluten free bread. Well, just by chance, I happened to be driving from Vermont to Michigan about six weeks ago for a gluten free vendor fair. I took a route through Canada and crossed into Michigan at the Port Huron border crossing. It was approximating rush hour, and I was stunned that there were no foreign cars on the road. Actually, I made a game of it and counted only seven foreign cars in my one and one-half hour trip from the border to Ann Arbor. It was as if I were in a foreign country (or Vermont is a foreign country!)—I saw models of American cars I’ve never seen before, and the highways were miracles of efficiency.

When I visited a few local health food stores, though, the frozen cases were stuffed with imported bread products and pizzas. While the buy local/buy American sentiment in the Detroit area was obvious for automobiles, local and American gluten free bread products weren’t to be found. A few years back, imported gluten free brands were some of the most palatable (and often the most economical) on the market, but just like in Detroit, a lot has changed in the past few years. There are a number of domestic gluten free bread products that are tastier and a lot more wholesome. So, it occurs to me that the Big Three and domestic gluten free bread manufacturers have a lot more in common than they might think. As a manufacturer, we are in a position of having to dislodge imported brands from the freezer shelves. We do this by letting as many people as possible taste our breads—21,000 celiacs last year alone. Once customers see and taste the difference, they can make a difference by buying a non-industrialized food product made by an American company who cares about not only its customers, but its employees, and the family farms and small businesses that supply its raw materials. And by the time our Prius finally gives up the ghost, I'm hopeful that the Big Three will have demonstrated to me the superiority of their automobiles.

No comments: