With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

17 May 2009

Beware Food Allergy Profiteers

With food allergies on the rise, and new food allergy friendly products and companies constantly under development, I have noticed--and you probably have too--there are more websites targeting the food allergic public. If you are online, you know what I mean. These people find you! The press writes constantly about the power of mom bloggers, and so these businesses seek me (and you!) out daily, weekly, in search of free publicity.

Now, I will admit to a soft spot for a food allergy mom or dad or family starting a business out of a perceived food allergy related need. Good for them! Heck, I'm doing it too! As a FA mom, however, I can't help but feel skeptical when a site suddenly appears out of the blue, attempting to be a food allergy authority or a center for discounts and coupons on food allergy products. I immediately wonder "Who is this person?", "What is their connection to food allergies", and "How are they profiting from this?" Maybe I am being unfair, but when there is no discernible connection to food allergies, I wonder if they are preying on us. Furthermore, giving the false impression of ties to the food allergy community is truly distasteful! We all would love to be unfamiliar with food allergies, but this is our lot in life for the time being. Please don't pretend to be part of the food allergy community so you can take advantage of us! There is a word for what they are trying to do, it is...INGRATIATE.

From Merriam-Webster Online:


2in- + Latin gratia grace
: to gain favor or favorable acceptance for by deliberate effort —usually used with with<ingratiate themselves with the community leaders — William Attwood>
— in·gra·ti·a·tion           Listen to the pronunciation of ingratiation \-ˌgrā-shē-ˈā-shən\ noun
— in·gra·tia·to·ry           Listen to the pronunciation of ingratiatory \-ˈgrā-sh(ē-)ə-ˌtȯr-ē\ adjective

Just as I feel driven to share news of cross-contamination risks or labeling changes, I feel some obligation to offer words of warning about food allergy profiteers. They are out there, and they are active! They are on Twitter, they are on Facebook, they blog, they are everywhere, and they're trying to pretend they're your friend! One easy way to spot them is their drive to collect "members" or "subscribers". Another sign is a commercial looking site with stock photos of happy smiling families from all different backgrounds. Resist the temptation to sign up for these friendly omniscient websites with all the answers. Ask yourself what their connection to food allergies is. Think of the junk mail you already receive!

Most of the helpful information about food allergies, food allergy friendly foods and other tips about living with food allergies can be very easily found on ordinary not-for-profit websites, such as www.foodallergy.org, www.faiusa.org, www.aafa.org, www.kidswithfoodallergies.org (sorry Lynda, I goofed and left KFA out originally!) and www.foodallergysupport.org and countless other support group sites. There are so many food allergy bloggers, making little or no money on their blogs, who share helpful tips, coupon codes and other helpful information out of the generosity of their hearts. Look to those non-profits and regular mom bloggers trying to share a helpful tip or too, just like they do in the pick-up/drop-off line at school or at the supermarket! You don't need to belong to a website or be a subscriber to get the scoop; most food allergy families want to help each other because we're all in it together.


Jane Anne said...

Great words of advice! I love that we are all in it together. I really felt that at the Twitter party.

Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

This is such great advice, thanks for passing it along. I am so sad I missed the twitter party.

Nowheymama said...

Great post!

I am curious about what site(s) prompted it, though. :)

Ruth Smith said...

Great post Jennifer! I'm so glad you wrote it. I too am finding that there are people and sites coming out of the woodwork as allergy news gains media attention. Unfortunately the newly diagnosed can't always tell a legit site from one that's not.

I think for me personally, when I find a site that doesn't tell a story-one where I'm left wondering what the person's connection to food allergies is or even who the site owner is to begin with-that raises a red flag for me. Sites that don't offer any new information or their own perspective, thoughts, and opinions also set off alarm bells for me.

I see a lot of these sites being submitted to Best Allergy Sites. Supposed allergen free food products made using co-packers or made in facilities with allergens. Sites with lots of advertising and very little helpful information. Sites that steal information and stories from other sites. Sites that charge a fee to gain access to their information. Sites that ask for your email address so that they can turn around and sell it for a profit or spam you with paid advertising.

It's unfortunate, but it's the world we live in. I hope your post helps others to think about the sites they visit and the information they are getting. As we all know, not all information on the web is created equal.

Anonymous said...

I think you could just say "Beware Profiteers", period. Caveat emptor always applies.

In addition to the other suspicious things mentioned above, I would say that lack of acknowledgement of FAAN or AAFA or similar nonprofit organization might be a tip-off for something to be skeptical of.

Jenny said...

YES! Thanks for the PSA--it's so easy to get fooled with all the sites out there.

I'm continually asked to hook my blog up with other FA websites or to pay to be on a site---or to write for a site for free. I have a policy of not doing any of it.

kelly said...

Oh Jennifer GREAT post. You truly hit the nail on the head. I, too, have been solicited through my blog and twitter to try products, coupons, etc. and at times I also wonder, who are you and do you REALLY know anything about the lives of those with food allergies. Thanks SO MUCH for this fabulous post.

Lynda Mitchell said...

Count www.kidswithfoodallergies.org among the nonprofit Web sites. We've been around for 4 years now as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit org, and operated informally since 1998 prior to 2005.

Another separate issue besides profiteers are those with inaccurate or sometimes even dangerous food allergy "advice." We all need to be skeptical not just about the profit motive but about the site's credibility for the accuracy of the information it contains.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. And...gads--Lynda, I am mortified I left you guys out, one of the great and reliable support groups/non-profits in the food allergy world! I am going back to add the amazing Kids with Food Allergies in the body of my post. Anyone with a food allergic child should absolutely visit www.kidswithfoodallergies.org! I do all the time.

Anonymous said...

Often a charlatan leaves his calling card, as you write (no allergic kids, no connections to support groups, quirky advise, etc.). But websites are less of a concern than the major chains, which for some time have been moving into what they perceive to be nothing more than a lucrative marketplace. Be unduly skeptical of startups and two things may happen A) our competitive marketplace with its great and expanding variety will quickly be narrowed down to the top ten best selling bake mixes in the "dietary food" section of a place where the staff has no knowledge about the products, how they perform, connection to advocacy groups, bad advise, etc. and B) you just may hurt the many many food allergy parents turned entrepreneurs whom we all ought to rally behind. This has already happened to your local health food store. Give it another five years and these will be all but gone, "natural"/"organic" having become the property of the local Megamart. IT is hard to know people's motives. Sometimes good hearted people are just bad at marketing -- a word of caution from someone who believes that we have it good in the marketplace right now, and yes I’m also a FA dad and a FA entrepreneur.

Unknown said...

A good and thoughtful comment, Anonymous. So nice to have a comment from a FA dad; hope you will come back and join the conversation again.

I think we're in agreement. Just to clarify the post, I'm not advocating being leery of startups; in fact, I regularly feature new food allergy aware companies and products--bakeries, medical bracelets, clothes--as often as possible here. It's in our interest to support all truly food allergy conscious businesses and encourage them to flourish, providing more options and making life easier for our food allergic family members.

Gwen Smith said...

Really glad you posted this. I'm the editor of Allergic Living mag. and Allergicliving.com, and I, too, am highly aware of those who seem to look upon food allergies as a way to make a fast dollar. (As awful as that sounds when dealing with anaphylaxis risk.)

But while I applaud your post, I think we should distinguish here. There is nothing wrong with for-profit per se. Thank goodness for the wonderful, legit food companies making free-from prods today - and allowing many of us with (or with kids with) multiple food allergies to have choices in the grocery store.

Technically, AL mag. is for profit too – though it's much more about the commitment of journalists living with allergies and asthma to bringing strong media coverage to this area. Our mag carefully screens advertisers, and always turns away those promising miracle cures or anything medically dubious.

On the Internet, my bigger concern than the rather obvious dollar hunters are those who are e-mail marketers - plain and simple. They're harder to spot. Some masquerade as bloggers, as you note. I know at AL we clearly pledge NOT to provide e-mails or addresses (given to us to mail magazines) to third parties.
If someone doesn't include that sort of note about e-mail addresses and seems really intent on getting your e-address, I'd be careful. Read the content; the question should be - is this really an allergy info site or blog - or is it an e-mail collection depot?

The old journalism saying about facts is: "in case of doubt cut it out." Here I'd say: "in case of doubt, don't sign up."
That's my few cents! Love your site, btw. Gwen Smith

Unknown said...

Gwen, thanks for your comment and kind words.

Your point about for-profit allergy friendly businesses is a good one and I wholeheartedly agree. I must confess, however, that I am not entirely objective on the subject since I own www.fabsnacks.com, an online retail store for allergy friendly snacks!

You really hit the nail on the head regarding the email marketers. They are what inspired me to write this post. They are indeed harder to spot, as you mention, and they are aggressively working the online food allergy circuit on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Your advice merits repeating:

"If someone doesn't include that sort of note about e-mail addresses and seems really intent on getting your e-address, I'd be careful. Read the content; the question should be - is this really an allergy info site or blog - or is it an e-mail collection depot?"