I've been shopping at Native Sun and finding gluten-free products throughout the store for the past few years, but I got a new look at the store and its gluten-free program yesterday.
Ginny Nehring, director of research for Native Sun, took me on a tour of the Baymeadows store to show me how they take care of people of people on a gluten-free diet. Of course, Native Sun has a dedicated gluten-free bakery in that store, but its program goes well beyond that.
What I really learned yesterday was the extent of its shelf tagging system. Native Sun's shelves have color-coded tags that help shoppers not only identify products that have "no gluten added," but also no casein, no peanuts or low in sodium.
However, thanks to Ginny, to get a no gluten added label, the store has a much more stringent requirement than the shelf tag indicates. Ginny's son was diagnosed with celiac in 1998, so she's been checking up on this stuff for years. She checks on every company that produces products on Native Sun's shelves to see not only that there's no gluten in the ingredients, but also that the company is using correct procedures to ensure that the gluten-free products are free of contamination from other products.
Even if the product is labeled "gluten free," she won't give it the red "no gluten added" shelf tag if she can't verify that the product is completely safe for a celiac. So you should feel safe if you buy a red tagged product off the Native Sun shelves.
I don't know of any other store where I'd feel as safe as I do buying products there. For example, Publix has green "gluten-free" tags on its shelves, but I really don't think it goes to the same level of verification as Native Sun for products from outside manufacturers.
Native Sun currently has stores in Baymeadows and Mandarin, and is planning to open a third store in Jacksonville Beach early next year. I'm looking forward to that.
By the way, Native Sun is holding a holiday cookie decorating event for kids on Dec. 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at both its Baymeadows and Mandarin stores, and Ginny assures me that they will have gluten-free cookies available for kids who need them.