For around a year, many coeliacs have been frustrated at the visual similarities between M&S Made Without Wheat branding and colour scheme, and that of their ordinary gluten-containing lines.
Mistakes have been made. Many of them. The latest I saw was by Jackie’s husband, made ill by consuming a wheaten egg mayo sandwich. But there is a long history of such incidents. Here’s Sue’s. Here are Zack’s. Here’s Kevin’s — a first error in 17 years, given to his mother. There are more.
Look at these sandwiches, pictured by Gluten Free Mrs D’s Sian. A rushed lunch hour … A mis-shelved product … A product returned to the wrong shelf by a careless customer … It’s just asking for trouble, surely.
On many of the occasions the issue has arisen, I’ve registered my concern with M&S on Twitter and asked them to consider addressing it. Others have done likewise. At first, I admit, my view was “Always read the label!”, but when it kept happening, and happening, I reconsidered. I really felt it was up to M&S to act.
Some coeliacs, many of whom I respect and engage with on Twitter, disagreed. Dale, for instance, not unreasonably pointed out that checking only takes a few seconds. Of course he’s right, but it’s very easy to be lulled into a sense of security and drop your guard. “Open your eyes!” was another objection. Sure — but what about people with partial sightedness? What about less clued-up family members buying on behalf of coeliacs? Others have asked where do you draw the line? Are manufacturers expected to come up with a different colour for every allergen? Most people manage to negotiate the M&S sandwiches without getting sick — surely it’s down to individual responsibility?
You don’t draw a line, of course. For some time my go-to analogy has been this: it is every person’s responsibility to look both ways before crossing a road. One accident is unfortunate and may not merit a change in policy. But many accidents at the same spot is an issue which needs to be addressed. It is not unreasonable in this case to ask the Council to install a zebra crossing or some speed bumps, and neither is it so to ask M&S to consider changing their colour coding to stop customers getting sick. As my coeliac mate Chris put it so perfectly: “Why make them the same colour when they could change to literally any f***ing colour in the world?”
Following Jackie’s case, I wrote to M&S Corporate PR department. Here’s an edited extract, which I sent with links to examples:
“For almost a year I’ve been concerned about reports of errors by coeliac customers shopping at M&S due to the similarity of green packaging between ordinary and ‘Made Without Wheat’ products … While I take the point that it is an individual’s responsibility to double check labels, I and others in the coeliac community (though certainly not all) have reached the point where we think action is needed … M&S have been notified periodically about this situation over the last year, and your social media handlers typically promise to log the feedback, but I now wonder whether any action may be taken? Is the issue at least being discussed?”
I ended with an invitation for a discussion. Instead, a week later, I received a brief email from their Corporate PR Officer:
“From September, we will start to roll out a new packaging design for all our Made Without Wheat ranges so customers can clearly identify free-from products. It will be completely new packaging in a different colour.”
I know this won’t please everybody, but it pleases me, and hope those on the other side of the argument will at least agree that fewer folk being made unwell — not to mention fewer wheaties buying GF sandwiches they don’t want, allowing them to remain on the shelf for those who need them — will be a welcome consequence of the decision by M&S.