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 2010

Food Manufacturer Responses Can Build or Destroy Food Allergic Consumer Confidence

I love when food manufacturers ask for a doctor's note to provide specific ingredient information. Have you ever received that response from a food manufacturer? When I call or email to inquire about ingredients or risk of cross-contamination, and I receive a response that is less than satisfactory, it decimates my confidence in a particular product and often in all products by that manufacturer. When a company goes above and beyond to label clearly and answer my questions as thoroughly as possible, I become a loyal customer and will tell all my friends...and readers...and followers, and they'll tell their friends, readers, and followers, and so on... (Kinda like that 'ol Faberge Shampoo commercial, remember? The sound on this video's a bit distorted but you get the idea.)

Below is an email fellow Twitter user, @RockerMom1998, received in response to her allergen inquiry about Popsicle brand popsicles:

"Thank you for writing us regarding Unilever .

We do appreciate your interest in our company and its products.

When common allergens are used in our products, we list these under our ingredients. The common allergens we list, if present, are: Milk, Eggs, Fish, Shellfish, Wheat, Soy, Peanuts or other Nuts. We make every effort to stay informed about any additional ingredients that could be considered common allergens. Also whenever possible, we try to avoid using materials or ingredients that could be considered to be commonly allergenic, so that potential allergens are not included into categories such as "Natural Flavors".

Many of our unique flavors are created for us by flavor suppliers, and we purchase the flavors as a single component. Since the formula of the flavor is proprietary to the flavor supplier, we do not have a list of the flavoring ingredients.

In the case of allergies: it is extremely unlikely that an artificial or natural flavoring would contain the complex proteins needed to cause an allergic reaction. On the other hand, some people may find that there are particular foods which are not tolerated and need to be avoided.

Food allergies are caused when a sensitive person has an adverse reaction to complex proteins. Flavorings rarely contain any proteins. If they do, then the proteins are usually only simple proteins that should not cause an allergic reaction. If a flavoring contains complex proteins, then the source of the protein will be included in the ingredient list on the product label.

If you do have an allergy, we would ask that your doctor provide the name of the specific flavors or components in writing, we will then respond to your physician. As you may know, flavors often have complex formulations, containing many ingredients. The research may take several weeks to complete so we thank you for your patience.

Please send to:

Unilever Consumer Services
800 Sylvan Ave.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632"


Your friends at Unilever


RLR said...

Umm, thanks, company with the really unhelpful reply, I'll just make my own....

Mom with a Mission said...

Love the post. It's so true. If I get a negative response to an inquiry about whether a product is safe for my peanut allergic daughter then I no longer purchase any of their brands. I also make sure that my friends know and that I share with all of my blog readers. I received a similar response from Con Agra stating that the information was proprietary. I've not purchased a single product in their line up of brands since!


Libby said...

You nailed it. I've had a long simmering, yet to be written, post about the responses (and lack thereof) that I've received when calling the 800 numbers in the back of my mind. The worst one was when a service rep outright tried to avoid giving an accurate answer on the presence of milk until I rephrased the question. (I think it was prior to the current food labeling law.) Thanks for sharing this sad excuse of a "customer service" response!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand what the problem is with this response. It's completely true that food companies have to protect their special flavor formulations. How do they know you aren't a potential competitor trying to replicate their recipes?

No, I've never worked at a food company and I do have food allergies. But please, the world can't revolve around the relatively few of us with serious allergies. It seems like the company would be willing to share information, if only you're up to providing a little more about yourself.

And is it really a tragedy to avoid popsicles for a few months? Raw fruit is so much healthier, esp for kids!