Nutty Ruminations


We’re nuts about our customers.

Regular readers of this blog know I like to kid. I’m a hard-working guy who, like you, enjoys a little levity. Not so much for this one. The topic is serious, deadly so, although I come with hope. Food allergies. Any kind is bad, but a hypersensitivity to peanuts, or other nuts, can be particularly miserable, and dangerous.

I knew such allergies existed, of course, and our stores have long carried substitute products. But like a lot of things in life the subject was mostly abstract, until a friend related his experience. It seems his grandson recently boarded a plane and, merely by sitting where someone had eaten peanuts, went straight into shock.

He was rushed off the plane and thank goodness survived, but it was close.

So I was mulling that and the fact that I get lots of e-mails from people telling me their kids are allergic to nuts, both peanuts and tree nuts — pecans, walnuts, almonds and the like. So I decided that we need many more nut-free products in our stores. I’m working hard tracking them down, and educating myself, in turn. Talking to physicians, I’ve learned, for instance, that peanut exposure can occur in multiple ways, including through direct skin contact, which is likely what triggered the grandson’s reaction. I can’t do a lot about that one, except help keep your home allergen free. But I’ve also learned that inhalation of aerosols containing peanuts, like peanut flour and peanut oil cooking spray, can also cause reactions.

I’m committed to bringing you alternatives to this stuff.

Here’s the kind of peanut exposure that’s particularly fascinating to me: cross contact — unintended introduction of nuts into a product, usually the result of food being exposed to peanuts during processing or handling. That’s a tough one, because if I’m allergic and taking every precaution, and become ill anyway through no fault of my own, well that is especially egregious. So, I’m looking for suppliers and manufacturers who have facilities that are totally nut free. I’m that serious about this problem.

Here’s a primer: peanut allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something pernicious. No one’s sure why. There is no known cure. And this: although peanuts are a ground nut and a peanut allergy is different from a tree nut allergy, there are parallels. In fact, one-half of adult peanut allergy sufferers, and most kids, also have tree nut allergies. Only about 20 percent of infants with a peanut allergy outgrow it.

Stay with me now: symptoms range from hives and eczema and digestional discomfort to anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal constriction of the airways and swelling of the throat. Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-related death. So you can see how I’m no riot here, right?

And here’s the thing, the problem’s not getting any better. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, allergic food reactions, particularly peanut allergies, are on the rise, causing roughly 15,000 emergency room visits annually and about 150 deaths.

But I want to help. Simply put, Hiller’s has a responsibility to offer products to people whose lifestyle limits what they can eat. (We’re already doing that for those with gluten issues, as you know). In the last month alone we’ve added more than 100 peanut-free items, like soy butters and various cereals, depending on where you are in the allergy spectrum. Perhaps you can’t do peanuts, but almonds are okay. I’m telling you, friends, we’re leading this effort. We’re in the vanguard of grocers. And as always it’s because we care.

So we’re planning things like nut-free fairs, where people can learn about allergies and what products are available. There will be tastings and in-store tours, and most importantly, opportunities to talk with you, learn from you, so that I can do my job better. I see this as another chance for me to connect with you, my family of customers. How difficult it must be for a family who has a relative who’s at risk!

I’ve set all this as our goal for this year. I think that underlying it all is a desire to help people who have food restrictions live a lifestyle that’s as close to conventional as possible. Children suffer if they can’t participate in life. I think what we’re doing is one of those things that can make life so much better.

So stay tuned. And spread the word:

Hiller’s is nuts about its customers.


Nutty Ruminations — 1 Comment

  1. Hey Jim
    I have moved around the country a bit, with my roots still grounded in Michigan. I am in the grocery business I have watched what Hiller’s has done to provide nut-free offerings to the community. I have a particular affinity with this as my son was diagnosed with a tree nut allergy 7 years ago. Finding nut free products has gotten easier with labeling laws, but still can be challenging. Of all places we now live in Atlanta, home of the peanut. We miss Hillers.
    How viable do you think a local nut free bakery is in Detroit?
    Thanks and look forward to your response.
    Curtis Gropman

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