Grocer Says Baker Falsely Claimed Doughnuts Gluten-Free, Vegan

in Food Allergy, Food Allergy News, News
Published: March 6, 2024
Savory Fig doughnut in question.
Cindysnacks' photo of doughnut that raised concerns.

A vegan grocery market says a regional baker falsely claimed that doughnuts it supplied were gluten-free and vegan. Instead, Long Island, New York grocer Cindysnacks says The Savory Fig delivered baked goods that appeared suspiciously similar to a national chain’s doughnuts.

Cindysnacks, based in Huntington, New York, called out The Savory Fig owner Michelle Siriani in an Instagram post on March 3, 2024. The post has sparked outrage within the gluten-free and food allergy communities. 

Vegan grocer John Stengel wrote on Instagram that on February 23, a doughnut in a box of baked goods supplied by The Savory Fig was decorated differently than the others. The doughnut in question was decorated with little “D” sprinkles.

Out of concern, Stengel took all the items from The Savory Fig delivery off the Cindysnacks market shelves. He then asked Siriani about the doughnuts in a text message. He noted that the little “D” sprinkles were the same color and logo that the chain Dunkin’ Donuts uses.

In his post, Stengel pointed out that customers with food allergies were especially at risk. “If these are Dunkin’ Donuts, the ingredients could kill someone,” he wrote in the message, which he shared in the Instagram post. (The chain says its doughnuts contain wheat, dairy, eggs and soy.)

Siriani texted back: “These are definitely not Dunkin’ Donuts! If you don’t wanna put them out, don’t. But they are not Dunkin’ Donuts!” After more back and forth, she stated, “I would never do that!”

“We (Cindy and I) were not given satisfactory answers nor evidence and in that moment knew deep down how bad this was,” the Cindysnacks post states. Stengel and Indiana “Cindy” Kay have owned the vegan market since 2019.

Failing Gluten-Free Test

Allergic Living has learned that the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is conducting a full investigation after receiving several complaints about The Savory Fig, says Hanna Birkhead, associate director of public information.

“Ensuring the safety and proper labeling of our food supply is a critical function of the Department, which includes overseeing home processors in New York State,” Birkhead told Allergic Living. 

The Savory Fig is registered as a “home processor” in New York. It is required to follow guidelines, such as identifying allergens in a product ingredients statement, Birkhead says.

Before raising their concerns publicly, Cindysnacks undertook some investigation themselves. Stengel’s Instagram post says they ordered the sprinkles that Siriani said she used to decorate the doughnut in question. But not only did they not match those on the doughnut, they were not labeled as vegan.

The vegan grocers also ordered an at-home test to check for gluten in the doughnut. The test conclusively showed gluten, Cindysnacks posted on Instagram.

“We can only assume, given this recognizable logo design, where these donuts really came from and what other ingredients they might contain,” Stengel wrote.

Cindysnacks has cut all ties with Siriani and The Savory Fig, also based on Long Island. Stengel wrote of being “mortified” by the situation. Siriani did not respond to Allergic Living’s requests for comment and explanation.

In response to Cindysnacks’ post, The Savory Fig, which advertised as a vegan kitchen, suddenly took down its website and removed its social media pages. One promotion says, “The pastries are made from scratch .… They are unique in being vegan and gluten-friendly.”

Vegan, Gluten-Free Doughnut Uproar

The doughnut controversy initially erupted on Reddit. Followers who have celiac disease or food allergies expressed anger, fear, and disbelief. Some also posted photos that showed Valentine’s Day and holiday doughnuts from The Savory Fig, again finding similarity to doughnuts sold by Dunkin’ Donuts.

The issue has also sparked outrage on Instagram and TikTok. Several influencers point to the danger that a product falsely claiming to be gluten-free and dairy-free presents for customers with celiac disease or food allergies.

This is not the first time controversy over gluten-free claims has arisen. In March 2023, Oklahoma-based Batter Than Good Baking Co. shut down after being called out when a gluten test showed high levels of wheat in the company’s gluten-free flour.

The investigation occurred when a parent told Tricia Thompson of Gluten-Free Watchdog that her son with celiac disease was getting sick from Batter Than Good products. Thompson conducted a test that revealed wheat from the company that advertised a gluten-free facility.

As for Cindysnacks, they are not interested in the viral social media attention, saying they only came forward “to keep people safe.” 

Their initial Instagram post also includes an apology to their customers. “This is our nightmare come true,” Cindysnacks wrote.

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