Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Q&A with Domino's and the NFCA

Questions and concerns abound in the gluten-free community, particularly among celiacs, about Domino's Pizza's new gluten-free crust. (You can read my post from Monday for the details, which includes the press release, a video from the company, and a link to a Frequently Asked Questions page.) In short, the crust is not recommended for those with celiac disease.

Given what I know about this product, I will not be serving this to my celiac son or listing Domino's on my restaurant list. However, since there are different segments of the gluten-free community that read this blog regularly, I am continuing to share information here.

I've read many comments on Facebook, Twitter and other blogs on this topic in the last 48 hours, especially as to Domino's rationale for introducing a product that celiacs should not consume and the role of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in working with the company. I asked Alice Bast, founder and president of the NFCA, and Chris Brandon of Domino's Public Relations Department by email to respond to some of the questions surrounding the introduction of the crust.

Why is the NFCA associated with Domino's roll-out of the new gluten-free pizza crust if it's not recommended for people with celiac disease?

Alice Bast: Our main goal was to keep those with celiac disease safe. When we first spoke with Domino’s, we thought we would be helping them launch a gluten-free crust pizza for everyone to enjoy. However, upon review of operating procedures, we realized that we could not recommend this pizza for those with celiac disease. Both Domino's and NFCA felt that it was important for us to play a role in this launch to ensure the safety of those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

We launched the GREAT Kitchens tiered system to provide a common language for restaurants to communicate their practices while being educated about the needs of the gluten-free consumer. [Editor's note: The NFCA's statement regarding GREAT Kitchens Designations was posted this morning.] We would love for every restaurant to have the Green designation, and that is our goal. But we also understand that the requirements can seem daunting at first. The Amber designation is designed to get restaurants started down a path to one day serving those with celiac disease. With the Amber designation, and in Domino’s case, we have started a dialogue, educated the company and trained their employees so they have a better understanding of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity and a strong foundation to build from.

Isn't there a risk of confusing the consumer with Domino's having a designation from GREAT Kitchens?

Alice Bast: The GREAT Kitchens tiered system aims to combat the widespread confusion and a lack of consistent standards around gluten-free food preparation in restaurants and promote a common language to voice those discrepancies. The purpose of the tiered system is to guide those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity to fully understand a restaurant’s gluten-free practices.  In this tiered system, consumers will find two designations:
  • Amber Designation – This level requires ingredient verification and basic training of wait staff and managers. Kitchen practices may vary with this designation, level one of the tier system, meaning those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity should ask questions and exercise judgment when dining at an establishment with an Amber Designation. 
  • Green Designation – Level two of the system is for restaurants with robust gluten-free protocols that meet the needs of diners with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. They have comprehensive training of wait staff, managers and kitchen staff, have verified the gluten-free status of incoming ingredients and have instituted strict cross-contamination controls. 
As we said, our goal is to one day have all restaurants at the Green Designation, and we believe that the way to encourage that is to enter a relationship that meets them where they are and provides education that will enable them to make a deeper commitment when they are ready. Through this system, we also want to ensure that all gluten-free diners have the information they need to truly make an informed decision.

Why is Domino's offering this new product when there are many gluten-intolerant people who won't be able to consume it? Isn't that limiting your customer base?

Chris Brandon: Our first priority was ensuring that the Gluten Free Crust pizza that we developed was safe and intended for the correct group of consumers who could benefit from it – which ended up being some of the approximately 18 million people who suffer from gluten sensitivity.

Why did Domino's involve the NFCA for this product?

Chris Brandon: We wanted to do our homework and consulted with the NFCA to ensure that the product we were developing ended up with the correct group of consumers. NFCA helped us realize that current store operations cannot guarantee a gluten-free pizza, but that our Gluten Free Crust addresses a large population of consumers who are interested in menu items made with gluten-free ingredients. While we acknowledge that we are not able to achieve the cross-contamination controls necessary to meet NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens Green Designation, we are pleased that Domino’s earned the NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens Amber Designation for the education and training we’ve completed.

Did the company consider taking steps to avoid cross-contamination before going this route? If so, why didn't the company pursue it?

Chris Brandon: Our store operations would not guarantee a gluten-free pizza that we could safely recommend for those with celiac disease.

There is a perception in the gluten-free community that the company is looking to capitalize on the trendy aspect of the gluten-free diet. How would you respond to that?

Chris Brandon: Domino’s is the first national pizza delivery chain to offer a Gluten Free Crust pizza. Our goal with this is to take the lead in developing a solution for these consumers that has nothing to do with a trend or fad, but has to do with helping many people who had previously not been able to enjoy a Domino’s pizza the chance to do so.

Is Domino's taking any steps beyond the initial announcement to inform customers at the store level that the pizza is not recommended for those with celiac disease?

Chris Brandon: Domino’s top priority is the safety of its food. To help make sure we are being as open and informative as possible, we have done the following:

  • Posted a video on YouTube
  • Created a tab on our Facebook page and FAQs on our website
  • We have a disclaimer that is present with in-store promotional materials
  • Also, if you order online you are prompted about the product before proceeding with your order if you choose the Gluten Free Crust option
Would the company consider selling the crusts to allow people to make gluten-free pizza at home?

Chris Brandon: No plans for that at this time.

Is the company exploring any options to make the pizzas safe for those with celiac disease, such as bake-in-bag pizzas or using separate ingredients and utensils?

Chris Brandon: With the help of NFCA, we explored all options for this product and determined that our current operational model does not make it feasible to offer a gluten-free option that is safe for people with celiac disease at this time.
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1 comment:

  1. Great reporting. Thanks for getting expanded answers from Domino's and NFCA about the pizza. It is frustrating to have items that say "gluten-free" but then aren't really gluten-free.