BANGOR — Finding food items that don’t contain gluten, a type of protein found in most grains, cereals, and breads, is sometimes difficult but necessary for those living with celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the lining of the small intestine when gluten is consumed.
For the nearly 1 in 133 people in the United States that the Celiac Sprue Association reports is affected by the disease, grocery shopping at one New England chain recently became easier.
Shaw’s in Bangor, along with the company’s 174 other locations throughout New England, now features a gluten-free food section, in addition to signage and special merchandise to make it easier for customers to find gluten-free products.
“The gluten-free program stemmed from Shaw’s commitment to provide customers with convenient and affordable health and wellness solutions. The new gluten-free program, developed by registered dietitians and the store’s health and wellness team, is just one of the initiatives the help provide shoppers with wellness solu-tions,” Jennifer Shea, Shaw’s registered dietitian, said in a recent e-mail interview.
Celiac disease is sensitivity to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Because there is no existing medication or therapy to alleviate symptoms, people with the disorder must follow a strict diet.
Jeff Moulton, associate manager of the Bangor Shaw’s, said that his store has carried gluten-free products for a while, but as more people are being diagnosed with the disease, the foods are gaining more attention.
“We have a gluten-free section, but there were a lot of things that are integrated right into the aisle, like frozen vegetables or french fries,” Moulton said.
The Main Street store in Bangor now has a 12-foot gluten-free section, located within Wild Harvest, an organic and natural foods section. Moulton said pamphlets available at the service desk list the gluten-free products available throughout the store. The pamphlet, which is the same in all stores, has categories such as Bakery & Bread, Dairy & Refrigerated Products, and Deli & Pre-packaged items, with specific brands and products listed.
The online shopping list is also available at www.shaws.com/glutenfree. Shea said the list is expected to be more extensive in the near future. Descriptive signage throughout individual stores also has been designed to highlight gluten-free products.
“If a customer is looking for a particular gluten-free item that they cannot find in their store, we encourage them to speak with the store director to request that the product be carried at that store,” Shea said. “It’s also important to note that many of the items in our stores in our fresh departments are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits and vegetables, seafood, meats, poultry, nuts and beans.”
Although the program is in its early stages, Shea said customers already have provided feedback.
“To date, we have received positive feedback, mainly customers excited about how much easier and less stressful their shopping is because they don’t have to spend so much time figuring out what foods contain gluten,” Shea said.
In addition to the gluten-free guide, Shaw’s has other programs designed to promote health and wellness. “Shaw’s Healthy Eaters Exploration Adventure,” is a program that helps learning about healthy eating choices become an adventure for kids. The program teaches children in pre-kindergarten to grade three the fundamentals of healthful eating and good nutrition in a fun way, Shea said.
Shaw’s also recently announced the “Living Healthy With My Diabetes” program, which offers a health and wellness solution to diabetic shoppers, according to Shea.
“The program provides convenient tools, tips, products and services to help shoppers live well with diabetes. Some of the year-round program elements include in-store pharmacy services, such as diabetes education, diabetes self-management services, blood glucose screenings, blood pressure monitoring and face-to-face medi-cation reviews, as well as nutrition information from registered dietitians,” Shea said.