Smart Businesses Support Celiacs


Back in May, I was excited when Starbucks introduced its first-ever gluten-free baked treat, the Orange Valencia Cake. But last week, the company announced — via Twitter — that it was no longer going to carry it. Instead, gluten-intolerant people would have to make do with KIND bars, one of those fruit-and-nut snacks which, in my opinion, are neither healthy enough to justify as part of a meal nor decadent enough to qualify as a treat.

To me, it was a great disappointment. It wasn’t that I was in love with the cake. I’d been in several Starbucks locations where the cake had been taken out of its packaging and set on a cake stand in the display case, alongside the wheat-based baked goods, entirely defeating the point of it being gluten-free. But I was surprised that such a major US chain would go to the trouble of developing the treat, stocking it nationally, then just ditch it within weeks. I’m not sure what Starbucks’ message to the growing number of gluten-free consumers was supposed to be, but it certainly wasn’t that they were committed to serving us.

Triumph Dining has organized an online petition to Starbucks, designed to get the company to bring back the cake. Personally, I’m choosing to focus on shopping at places that have consistently shown an interest in serving celiacs. The recession has made me more conscious about where I spend my money. With the growing number of empty storefronts in New York City, I want to support new businesses like HealthSmart of NY, which opened in Murray Hill a couple of weeks ago and which boasts a surprisingly huge gluten-free section for a relatively small store. I also like to buy my groceries at local stores like Natural Green Market and Fairway, or national chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, all of which have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the celiac community.

My feelings about supporting businesses that serve celiacs extends to bakeries — such as Babycakes and Shabtai Gourmet — and especially to restaurants. When I’ve gone out lately, it’s mostly been to spots such as Bistango, Risotteria, GustOrganics, and Rosa Mexicano, all places with an impressive record of serving celiacs. (Rosa Mexicano doesn’t have a gluten-free menu, but over the course of many visits I’ve found them to be very celiac-aware.)

At a time when we’re all watching our budgets, I’d like to make a case for spending even more carefully. If a major corporation like Starbucks isn’t serious about serving the gluten-intolerant, I see no reason to support them. As Ethan at Gluten-Free Maps pointed out to me last week, Starbucks offers a gluten-free fair trade chocolate cake at its outlets in Great Britain. And this isn’t just about Starbucks; as Chris at Celiac Handbook has noted, McDonald’s restaurants in Finland have a gluten-free menu (as do the ones in Sweden). If these American-based companies can manage these feats overseas, they can do it here. No excuses.

4 thoughts on “Smart Businesses Support Celiacs

  1. Great article Hilary. I’m not so upset with Starbucks discontinuing the Orange Cake but I am greatly disappointed in their unwillingness to replace it with something meaningful. And to be honest, like you, I came across several Starbucks that had them displayed outside of the wrapper in the glass case along with everything else (and in some cases touching other products). When questioned, the employees generally had no idea what I was concerned about. Wouldn’t one think that Starbucks would have at least done a little bit of training — considering they put so much effort into developing this “treat”.

    I can only hope that they will continue to develop more GF products (and train their employees on the importance of keeping these items GF) in the future. If not, I’m with you and will spend my money elsewhere. I don’t have anything specifically against the KIND bar, but I can pick those up just about anywhere.

    I also hope that Starbucks (and McDonald’s for that fact) will follow General Mills and Betty Crocker’s example and see that catering to the celiac community is profitable. I really wonder if someone in Starbucks marketing department sees the gluten-free diet as simply a fad diet — I certainly hope not.

  2. My son is 8 and was diagnosed with Celiacs in January. The biggest issue with him has been how he no longer feels “normal.” It means a lot to him to be able to leave the house and buy something to eat while we are doing errands instead of bringing something from home. When Starbucks introduced this cake, my son was thrilled! We would buy it as a special treat, and he was excited to be able to go to a store where “normal” people eat and be able to buy cake. When I read that the cake was being discontinued, I contacted Starbucks. I was given the run around and told several decisions go into discontinuing a product and though I could not be told what those decisions were, they were for the good of the Celiac customer. I agree with everything you said in your article and will no longer be a patron of Starbucks. I have also encouraged others I know to do the same. My son will continue to eat Kind Bars that are purchased from our local health food store. And like I told Starbucks, people who go to their stores are looking for a “special treat”, wether nutritious or not. IF I was looking to buy something healthy, Starbucks would not be my first choice.

  3. The moisture inside the wrapper was was caused major mould on the cake. So they ditched. Fast.

    In Canada we never had the pleasure of even trying the cake, so I had Victoria recreate one to see how it tastes. Pics below.

    I agree with you (obviously) that it’s important to support the smaller businesses that do whatever it takes to succeed in this very narrow niche of a market. GF Patisserie is very lucky to have a great community (Alberta) who’s celiacs come back and back and back for the gltuen free baked goods they make.

    Valencia Orange Cake:

  4. Some compelling points and comments. I am sure Starbucks will step back up to the plate when they notice the awareness of GF diets is still growing. The loss of the cake is one step back but there have been some amazing leaps forward this year..the Coors stadium, the Betty Crocker items. Someone is definitely asleep at the wheel at Starbuck’s. They will have some egg replacement on their face when management notices they are missing the boat on a huge growing market.

    Dana…you are so right, it is not the loss of any individual food that is tough with celiac. Any one item can be revised and replaced with some effort. It is the loss of the freedom to go out and roam around without planning meticulously. That’s why I like this blog.

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