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Let's say you have multiple attributes with more than one that can apply to multiple products, maybe food.

So maybe I have organic, egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, etc. Since each product could have an array of these options, using a multi-select attribute seems to make sense. However, since there are thousands of items, this is not practical being that we cannot use the "update attributes" in the actions to mass apply multiple attribute options since not every product has all of the same options in the array.

We also want the filtered results of these attributes to be selective, not additive, so we narrow the results to only the attributes selected in layered navigation. This does not work with multi-select attributes as a default. All products will appear for each selected option.

We would like this to appear as a single "Specialty" attribute or similar in name with the list of available options under it in layered navigation allowing the user to choose multiple options such as dairy-free and organic.

Please make suggestions how this might best be accomplished.

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I recommend you to use a proper layered navigation module. Magento Community requires some modifications for this and these modules have a lot of benefits. I had a comparable project. In terms of development I was way better off buying it than developing it due to the development time, additional features, support etc. It pays off in sales as it greatly improves usability. We also used a landing page module from the same developer to have the client be able to create pages for "Gluten & Nut free products" without a hassle, it accepted filtering with additional attributes. These integrated nicely. We only changed some templates and stylesheets accordingly, but this wasn't required. You'll find plenty of these solutions on Magento Connect or by a Google search. We decided to go with Amasty because of this combo. But like i said, there are plenty of options available.

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