Spot the difference: How bothered should we be about gluten free packaging?

Spot the difference: How bothered should we be about gluten free packaging?

Last week I posted on Instagram about a new range of sandwiches in M&S. It turns out, these sandwiches have virtually identical packaging and fillings to the Made Without Wheat ones, and are placed on the shelf in exactly the same spot, yet they are not gluten free. I wanted to make people aware of this as I nearly picked one up and bought it by accident, but it turns out it’s provoked a lot of strong opinions from both sides of the coeliac and gluten free camp. 

In my opinion, it’s important there is a clear definition when it comes to free from products. Brands spend so much time, money and effort developing gluten free brands (and let’s face it, M&S does some of the best gluten free products out there!) so why not make them easy for their free from customers to spot?

I know the gluten free sandwich clearly says ‘Made without Wheat’, but my main issues were:

  • The fillings in both sandwiches are identical. I knew there was a new red Leicester and tomato gluten free sandwich that had just come out, and I know there is a gluten free egg mayo sandwich in existence. These new sandwiches have identical fillings.
  • Both are a bright green colour.
  • Both have ‘No Mayo’ and ‘New’ written in the same spot.
  • All of their other sandwiches come in white packaging.
  • Both are placed in the same spot in the chiller where the gluten free sandwiches have always been, so it’s where I always look for them.
  • In my local M&S it seems these new sandwiches had actually replaced all but one of the gluten free flavours.

Now picture the scene: you’re in a rush, you don’t have lunch. You run into M&S and grab what you think is a gluten free egg mayo sandwich. You’ve shopped there for years and they’ve always been in the same place. You know you can the gluten free egg mayo sandwiches because you’ve had them before so you don’t give the packaging much of a look because you’re in a rush. You get out to discover you’ve accidentally picked up a non-gluten free sandwich instead – you just better hope you didn’t eat it.

And it seems a lot of people have done just that. I’ve had loads of messages since posting about this from people saying they have accidentally bought this, or have at least picked it up before realising their error. So are we all just stupid? Well, some people on my Instagram would like to think so. And while I simply don’t want to waste my time replying to people who write rude comments on my posts, I did think there were some interesting points raised…

‘You can’t please some people! Please M&S, could you employ someone to stand next to the sandwiches and point out the GF product for me?’

Oh, now this is a marvellous idea from one commenter. Perhaps they could also hand me a napkin and some crisps to go along with it? In fact, maybe we should get gluten free personal shoppers because we’re all too lazy to check food labels ourselves. I think this could be a good business idea actually. Perhaps I will look into this… Dragons’ Den here I come!

‘Oh the audacity!! How dare they!! get a f*cking life. There’s real problems in this world. Famine, war and your upset over bloody packaging’

Oh of course, how could I be so selfish as to forget all of these things! I mean, I’m not entirely sure I actually said I was upset about it (did someone tell him I was crying in my car? Damn it!) While I’m not sure that changing this gluten free packaging would solve some of the greater issues in the world (which, I’d like to point out, I do support charities working on these issues, I just don’t talk about that on my Instagram account about gluten free food) I don’t really think the colour of free from packaging is comparable to famine.

‘They are clearly labelled differently. It’s your responsibility as a consumer to make your own selection’

I completely agree, it is my responsibility to make my own selection. Unless someone is shopping for me of course. Yes there is a gluten free label, but as discussed above, people on a gluten free diet come to rely on recognisable gluten free packaging. I hear from many people who don’t even buy food which isn’t labelled ‘gluten free’, even if it is gluten free! This is an issue I’d like to explore in a different post, but mistakes do happen and bringing out a brand, in the same section, with very similar packaging, to me is not the best idea.

‘Omg what a nightmare thank god you didn’t how dare we be expected to read packaging in an age of convenience, the sheer horror’

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say I probably spend a good few hours every month reading food packaging. Now I love reading, but once I come to know certain foods I can eat, I don’t tend to keep re-reading the packaging just for fun. Perhaps this was my error! Of course it is important to always double check labels when you have coeliac disease or any food allergies or intolerances.

What does Coeliac UK say?

I also wanted to ask Coeliac UK what they have to say about gluten free packaging. Their response was: “Gluten free options have come a long way over the last 50 years and now most high streets may have a number of options for people eating on the go to choose from.

“Clear labelling of gluten free items is key, especially as people often pick up and put back items such as sandwiches in the wrong place especially during a busy lunchtime rush. We advocate the need to always look for gluten free information on the pack and not rely on colour coding alone to ensure that people are choosing the correct item for them.”

So what is the answer?

I’ll say this now, I bloody love M&S. I love their gluten free range, the amount of choice they give us, and the effort that goes into developing gluten free products. And yes, I get a little fed up with trolls but you know what, I love reading all the supportive comments I get from you guys and I do enjoy when posts spark a debate. Because it would be boring if we all agreed on everything, right?

I guess the moral of this story is that if you’re going to spend a lot of time and effort developing a recognisable brand, perhaps pick some different packaging when you bring out a new, gluten-filled range. Oh, and always read the labels! 

I’d love to know your opinions on this! Please comment below and share your thoughts!

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8 Comments

  1. Jen
    May 1, 2018 / 19:49

    On a very practical note I would have thought making a clear distinction would aid those of us who also have physical issues with eyesight.
    It also amuses me that those who critique others for taking time to comment about something they argue is inconsequential will not only take the time to read a comment but then also spend more time replying!

  2. Bethany
    May 1, 2018 / 20:18

    I think they should rethink the packaging. As you say, branding means a lot. Also love your take on the trolls 😂

  3. liz
    May 1, 2018 / 21:07

    I completely agree with you. I have purchased products before that were in the GF section, had the same/very similar packaging as the non-GF, and were obviously placed there in error (like a non-GF cake mIx on a shelf with all the GF mixes, or ‘regular’ gnocchi in the GF pasta section… and above a price sticker for GF mix/pasta!)
    I spend a LOT of time reading labels, but these mistakes happen. I didn’t notice the gnocchi was not GF until afterwards, but I did notice the cake mix agead of time and my non-celiac family got to enjoy it without me. I don’t expect special service or to be catered to… but I agree that making a noticibly different GF label would make life a little easier (and safer) for celiacs.

  4. Ro Ward
    May 1, 2018 / 22:07

    Although I accept it’s our responsibility to read labels, I agree it would be good to have something that makes it easier to recognise gluten free foods at a glance. I may well have previously been one of the people who are basically saying get a life, but since being diagnosed with coeliac and knowing that I’m ill for 3 days if I accidentally eat gluten, I would say we could all be a bit more understanding and contribute to a more constructive debate than some of the replies allow.
    Well done for all your efforts to highlight issues which affect us so greatly.

  5. May 2, 2018 / 11:32

    Definitely agree with all of this! Couldn’t believe it when I saw your photo of the two!

  6. May 2, 2018 / 13:38

    Love this Sarah! So honest and a brilliant response to some of these trolls!

  7. May 2, 2018 / 17:39

    A different color devoted to gf stuff makes sense to me. The comments your post received make no sense however.

  8. May 13, 2018 / 12:23

    This is a huge bug-bear of mine! I get so peed off with packaging that is similar especially when placed next to GF stuff….. It’s too easy to mistake one for the other and get glutened.

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