Gluten-free pizza on way to Meijer

By CAROL CAIN

For Americans who have had to pass on pizza because they have celiac disease and have a problem with starchy foods, help is on the way.

That’s because Shari Cole, who runs Gluten Free and Fabulous in Los Angeles, is launching a new gluten-free pizza crust as well as gluten-free cheese and pepperoni pizza that will be sold at Meijer stores starting April 1. (Go to www.glutenfreefabulous.com.)

Cole started her company as a result of her father’s illness.

Sickly most of his life, it wasn’t until 10 years ago that doctors figured out the cause. Larry Schneider had celiac disease.

“He was on his deathbed,” Cole said of her dad. “While in the hospital, they unknowingly were killing him with all the gluten products they were using on him.”

Those with celiac disease know the culprits that can cause problems — cereal, pastry, bagels, pizza crust and even pretzels contain glutens that are difficult to digest and can make celiac sufferers ill.

“It’s found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. Gluten can be found in soy sauce, mustards and other products. That is why it is so important to read labels,” she says.

As soon as Schneider changed his diet, his symptoms went away.

Cole and her mother, Harriet Schneider, both of whom love to cook, became quite good at making gluten-free meals. Soon, friends and family began asking them for the items.

Meanwhile, Cole had another motivation for creating gluten-free products.

Her 14-year-old daughter, Brittany, who is mildly autistic, began suffering severe gastrointestinal problems. People with autism sometimes are sensitive to glutens as well.

Brittany avoided those foods, and her symptoms went away.

Cole began investigating celiac disease and learned that 5 million people have it and another 5 million have symptoms but don’t realize the cause. She determined there was a huge market for the foods.

Thus, Cole, a single mother who also has a 15-year-old son, decided she had the makings for a business and launched Gluten Free and Fabulous with her father and best friend, Karen Davidson, also a single mother of two who is a dietitian and food scientist.

It took a year to get the company and products ready. They are manufactured at plants in California and Arizona and have been sold since the fall.

While some firms toil for years to get their products on retail shelves, Cole found success with Grand Rapids-based Meijer after several months of talks.