A Little Bit of History
Domino’s Pizza was founded in 1960 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, it is the second-largest pizza chain in the United States (second to Pizza Hut) and has more than 9,000 established franchised stores in the world. An incorporation with a successful foothold in 60 countries has a lot of power over the pizza industry’s reputation and the expectations of consumers with respect to the quality of service that a reputable pizza store should meet.
Domino’s has a history of being the first of its industry to adapt certain unique marketing techniques. For example, in 1973 Domino’s started advertising their 30-minute guarantee to customers. If Domino’s couldn’t deliver the pizza within 30 minutes of ordering, your pizza was free. In the 1980s the offer went from a free pizza to $3 off due to liability issues. Consumers began to speak out about the dangers of the 30-minute guarantee, expressing that it caused the delivery people to engage in unsafe driving. Eventually the 30-minute guarantee advertising campaign was dropped due to political and legal pressures.
What does this history have to do with the new gluten-free pizza crust? Domino’s has a history of being pizza pioneers when it comes to advertising. Ironically, the marketing campaigns employed by Domino’s seem to have a domino effect: once Domino’s does it, all of the other chains begin to follow suit. If history is to repeat itself, I wouldn’t be surprised if more pizza chains not only start offering gluten-free crusts but also follow Domino’s lead with regard to how they offer this new product.
Domino’s Gluten Free Pizza
As most people in the GF and celiac community know, Domino’s started offering a gluten-free pizza crust on May 7, 2012. Ironically announced during Celiac Awareness Month, the company explicitly stated that this gluten-free pizza is not designed for people with celiac disease. The pizza crust, in a vacuum, is gluten-free. What is the catch? Domino’s hasn’t taken any of the necessary precautions to prevent cross-contamination. In fact, on their website they state “While the Gluten-Free Crust is certified to be free of gluten, the pizza made with the Gluten-Free Crust use the same ingredients and utensils as all of our other pizzas.”
Here is a video that Domino’s made to help get the word out about their new product.
Their advertisement for gluten-free crust starts off by saying “Because we are honest people, here is a disclaimer.” For the record, a more accurate beginning to their disclaimer would state “Because we are lazy people, here is a disclaimer.” It would simply take a bit more education, training and effort to provide a fairly safe gluten-free option. At the end of the video ad you hear the narrator saying “Ok, enough already with the disclaimers we are really excited to tell you about our new gluten-free crust…” Not only is the crust not actually gluten-free but Domino’s goes so far as to dismiss their disclaimer as if it is an irrelevant formality
Issue #1: Gluten Free Labeling Laws
The FDA is close to formally establishing the legal requirements necessary to label a product as gluten free. Despite being on the books as an issue needing regulation for several years, the FDA has failed to respond to public pressure until now. The FDA only regulates food products but I wonder why the government recognizes that products should be regulated for the gluten-free status but not restaurants that offer similar products.
Government entities like the USDA and FDA protect the US population by regulating highly distributed, manufactured and agricultural food products. This is important to prevent public health catastrophes related to contaminated food products.
In general, it would not make sense to allocate government resources for regulating restaurants on a federal level because, in the past, if a restaurant had contaminated products or unsafe practices it wouldn’t affect enough people for it to be considered a federal issue. Unfortunately, in the world of chains and franchises, the idea that restaurants only impact their immediate surroundings is no longer true.
In this context we are talking about a pizza company that is located in every single state in this country with over 5,000 individual restaurant locations. The kitchen ingredients used by Domino’s can affect a large part of the US population and, more relevantly, their institutionalized kitchen protocol can affect people on a population level as well.
If Domino’s wants to offer a gluten free crust they should be subject to some form of regulation since their product is so wide-reaching. If Domino’s had a kitchen protocol that had all their chains set the ovens to a temperature that consistently undercooked meat, resulting in food poisoning, we would have a national health crisis on our hands. I don’t know why we are turning a blind eye when it comes to gluten free protocol in the kitchen.
Furthermore, calling their pizza “gluten free” should be considered false advertisement, if not fraud. Their appeal to the gluten free market is abhorrent. The gluten-free market base is depression-proof and has been consistently and substantially growing for the past 10 years. You should not be able to con your way into this market. If you take a chicken breast and dredge it lightly in flour before frying it, is this entree gluten free? NO. Is the chicken breast itself gluten free? YES. Similarly, if you have a gluten free pizza crust it is no longer gluten free if you cross-contaminate by preparing it in an environment covered in gluten-based flour (similar to a light dredging, if you will).
Issue #2 Corporate Precent
One of the main reasons that I find Domino’s actions completely unacceptable is because of, what I am calling, corporate precedent. California Pizza Kitchen started offering a gluten free pizza crust before doing their homework. They developed a crust but did not research cross-contamination protocol. As a result, customers complained. Did CPK slap a disclaimer on their menu and call it a day? No. CPK pulled the pizza from their menu and started working with the Gluten Intolerance Group to develop a strategy to make their kitchen safe for gluten-free pizza cooking. Domino’s justifies their lack of concern for cross-contamination by saying that the crust is for gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive consumers. Interestingly, although Domino’s argued that they are catering towards the gluten sensitive population, the Gluten Intolerance Group is the organization that stepped up to help CPK prevent cross contamination. I really enjoyed this post by Linda who points out that, of all the gluten sensitive people she knows, none of them have “mild” senstiives” and they do not appreciate a contaminated pizza!
Domino’s has stated that they simply don’t have the kitchen capacity to make a truly gluten free pizza. It seems reasonable that it might be hard to make a profit if they had to change their kitchen set up for this product. Then I remember PF Changs, a nationally represented corporate restaurant chain that has successfully created a gluten free menu and has changed their kitchen set up to accommodate safe food preparation.
Before Domino’s the precedents set by various corporations trying to go gluten free have been in favor of trying to prevent cross-contamination. I fear for the gluten free future of the restaurant industry now that such a large and financially successful company has started saying that it is ok to take the easy way out.
The Bigger Picture
Supply and demand: a fundamental concept in economics. If consumers demand a certain product, the market will supply it. What happens when the supply and demand get muddled and confused? Poor products. In response to perceived consumer demands restaurants and food companies are responding by creating “gluten-free” products. The problem is that the market is not understanding the true nature of the current demand.
Supply is not the issue right now. There are so many gluten free products on the market. If current product supply were the issue I would pick up some frozen pizza crusts at Whole Foods, go to Domino’s and ask them to heat it up for me. What is in need, the demand, is education and awareness. I don’t need Domino’s to create and produce a tasty recipe for a pizza crust. Udi’s, among other companies, has awesome pizza crust already. What we need is a safe place to dine out
I want to remind my readers that CPK stopped offering their gluten free pizza until they could establish a safe kitchen environment in response to a letter by a customer. If you want Domino’s to take accountability then send them a letter (or write them an email) explaining why taking the gluten-free pizza one step further could make a huge difference in your life and in the lives of many other people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Here is their mailing address:
Domino’s Pizza LLC
30 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
Check out my posts on the importance of writing letters and letter writing tips for advice.
Ultimately, if we want to change the market then we need to change the nature and clarity of our “demand.” The first step to this change? Advocate for yourself.
A note about NFCA
Check out their letter from Alice Bast discussing their involvement with Domino’s Pizza. NFCA has taken a lot of heat for seemingly endorsing Domino’s. Domino’s reached out to NFCA to consult about their new gluten free product. NFCA informed Domino’s that the pizza is not safe for Celiacs and reviewed their ingredient lists and kitchen practices to draw this conclusion. Although the Amber designation is fairly controversial, it is better than Domino’s advertising their pizza as gluten free without a disclaimer. Check out this post by Linda from theglutenfreehomemaker.com about why the amber designation may be a huge step back for the Celiac Community. Without NFCA Domino’s might have simply not let consumers know about the serious cross contamination risks.