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Udi’s & Smashburger: A Gluten-Free Disaster

Udi’s & Smashburger: A Gluten-Free Disaster

This is either a story of good intentions gone bad. Or it’s a story of a BS move by a large gluten-free company.

I will let you be the judge.

This story starts in the Summer of 2014 with the following announcement from Smashburger:

“Smashburger Announces New National Partnership with Udi’s Gluten Free”

They even had an official press release and everything!! (yes…that is sarcasm).

If you are not familiar with Smashburger, they are a “high end” burger joint. They currently have 300 restaurants in 32 states, with some locations overseas as well. So they are no small potatoes.

And we all know who Udi’s is. They are the company that continues to give us bread like this:

holes in udis bread

So when a major franchise partners with a major gluten-free company, you would think they would be doing it for those who NEED to be gluten-free, right?

I mean, why make a big fuss about it if you are only going to do it half-ass?

Why spend all the time and resources if you are strictly marketing to the fad dieters?

I think you see where this is going (and if not, maybe it’s time to grab that second cup of coffee.)

I received the following email the other day:

Hi Gluten Dude,

I had a recent experience at a Smashburger in Phoenix that was really irritating. They offered “gluten free” menu items, which I would normally be skeptical of at a fast food place, but they were advertising a partnership with Udi’s, which is a brand I generally trust to be celiac safe. (Not just “we now serve Udi’s buns,” but a “partnership.”)

Unfortunately, when I asked my standard cross-contamination questions, it turned out I could not have ANYTHING that could be served on an Udi’s bun. Not only are all of their burgers made on a shared griddle with grilled cheese, but they toast the Udi’s buns in the same toaster they use for their regular buns. I’m not really angry at Smashburger (it’s fast food, so I don’t expect much), but I’m so tired of “gluten free” not really meaning gluten free, and it bothers me that Udi’s entered into a partnership with them and is willing to let them advertise that when they are not taking ANY precautions to make the food safe. I mean, Pizza Hut takes it more seriously (though I still wouldn’t eat there).

I always had the impression that Udi’s actually cared about making safe gluten free food, so I kind of expected better. I’d be curious to hear what you think – am I just totally wrong to trust the Udi’s brand?


What do I think? I think it sucks. It’s not like they are even trying to keep it safe for us. So what’s the point? Why have gluten-free rolls if the people who NEED gluten-free rolls cannot eat the gluten-free rolls.

A$ I read the Pre$$ Relea$e from $mashburger, it became cry$tal clear. Take a look at $ome of these gem$.

“Smashburger and Udi’s share a passion for providing guests with great-tasting, high-quality food, so the partnership was a natural fit for us.”

While Udi’s may be affordable, offer a wide range of products, and hit the occasional home run, “great tasting” and “high-quality” are not the first two phrases that come to mind for me.

“Practicing a gluten-free diet is an emerging consumer trend, and Udi’s is the clear quality leader in the gluten-free category.”

Practicing?? Emerging trend??? Those are not the words celiacs want to hear. We like “safety” and “no cross-contamination”. We’re picky like that.

“By adding Udi’s buns to its menu, Smashburger is making an American classic available to consumers who are choosing gluten-free.”

Bingo! And we have the winner.

Smashburger did not do this for the gluten-free community. They did it for people who CHOOSE to be gluten-free. Smashburger saw a trend and jumped on it. Capitalism 101. And while I don’t like it, I sort of get it.

And to be fair, they are very honest about it on their website. Straight up, they say “We cannot guarantee that any food will be gluten-free because cross-contact with gluten may occur as shared equipment for menu items is used in our kitchen (for example, we use the same toaster for all of our buns).”

But here’s the problem I have with Smashburger. Fast food joints like Smashburger are just that. Fast food joints. Many people tend to go there on a whim…when they’re out and about. Odds are…many won’t read the website. They will see Udi’s gluten-free buns and think they can have them. And yeah, they may still ask the server all of the cross-contamination questions, but will the server know? Since they are not marketing to celiacs, I can’t imagine them training their staff to be educated.

At the end of the day, it’s on us to know where we can and cannot eat. But this is still a dangerous practice and if one person gets sick, it’s one too many.

But my real beef is with Udi’s. They are the largest name in the gluten-free food industry. They dominate the store shelves. Like it or not, they are a leader in the industry.

With that leadership role comes RESPONSIBILITY. And to me, this Smashburger deal is as irresponsible as it gets.

How can they possibly “partner” with a company when the end product cannot be tolerated by the gluten-free community? It just reeks of greed and ignorance.

If I’m Udi’s and Smashburger comes to me with an offer, my first question would be “Will you do your best to keep it safe for celiacs?” If the answer is anything but a resounding YES, I walk away from the table.

I suppose I’m human that way.

As I wrap this up, to Smashburger I say: I get it. You are trying to broaden your market. Please just consider doing things differently. Either drop the gluten-free offerings or do it right. I’d be happy to hold your hand and show you best practices.

To Udi’s I say: Try not to act like a big, nasty conglomerate. Remember why you began your gluten-free offerings in the first place. I’d like to think it was to keep the gluten-free community safe. You are now failing in that mission. Remove your products from all Smashburger locations until they can provide a safe gluten-free meal to those who need it. Oh…and take a look at that quote above from Mr. Kibaki. That is leadership.

To the gluten-free community I say: Don’t order anything gluten-free at Smashburger. It’s not even close to being safe. And perhaps you can help the community. Head on over to Udi’s Facebook page and nicely let them know that you are disappointed in their partnership with Smashburger and kindly ask them to end the partnership until it can be done right.

Ok…I’m outta here. It’s time to put on some Smashing Pumpkins or perhaps some Smash Mouth and escape for a bit. Is it too early to get smashed??

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