I recently read, in a not very friendly Daily Telegraph article – that the ‘free from’ food sales in the UK hit £0.5 billion last year and ‘gluten free’ alone is ‘worth’ £238 million a year. No wonder we are seeing more and more foods hitting the shelves. With a growth of more than 15% in just one year, you can see why the supermarkets have embraced this. Just this month Lidl launched their gluten free range and are no doubt currently analysing a positive impact on their overall sales figures.
It’s almost a month since the new allergen law came in. At the start there was a flurry of press coverage about what this would mean for allergy sufferers. Our very first experience was a very positive one – at Winter Wonderland – followed by a ‘medium to good’ one at Zizzi’s.
Since then I’ve been reading lots of posts in various Facebook groups and through other social media of some very unsatisfactory experiences. Many of the chains are being named and shamed. Some are being praised – but people usually talk more about their bad experiences, so the picture is somewhat skewed. The main problem seems to be staff training and attitude – and it varies wildly from location to location. Much effort seems to being put into compliance with the law with regard to menu and labelling but the staff are just not getting it right and reputations are being affected.
I hope 2015 has got off to a good start for you all. As I mentioned in my last blog post I believe 2015 will be a big year for ‘allergy cooking’. In the three short years since I launched Feeding My Intolerant Child, I have noticed a massive increase in the amount of ready made food available to us but now we have more resources than ever to help us make more of our own.
As I suspected and hoped, many top chefs and TV cooks have now embraced the ‘lifestyle’ aspect of dairy free and gluten free ‘eating’ and have started to ‘clean up’ their recipes and publish articles and whole books dedicated to gluten free and dairy free cooking. Many of the food magazines now label their recipes with a variety of icons, e.g. dairy free, gluten free, vegan, low fat, low sugar so that you can scan through and at a glance find the ones most suited to you.
As the year comes to an end, it is normal and fun to reflect on all that happened. 2014 was a big year for the blog. So thank you all for the support, follows, comments and ‘shares’. I love hearing all of your stories and comments, so keep them coming. This month has been our biggest month ever in terms of visits and interactions. It coincides with a giant change in the ‘allergy world’ – the arrival of the new food regs.
I can’t help but think that 2015 will be an even bigger year for stories about allergy living, free from foods and the booming industry that has grown out of the need – and the increasingly trendy ‘lifestyle’.
Over two years ago, we visited Zizzi in Winchester when we heard that they did gluten free pasta. We had a good experience and although the only dairy free pasta sauce was tomato we were impressed. The staff were helpful and ‘got’ gluten free. Zac had never ‘eaten’ in a restaurant before and it was so lovely to see his little face. Much has changed since then and more and more restaurants have been embracing gluten free but still the dairy free offering has always been poor.
On December 13th the new law came in which states that all food and drink providers must comply with the EU Food Information for Customers. (FIR Regs 1169/2011). So what does that mean? In summary, ‘allergy’ customers can now arrive at ‘a place that serves food’ and find/be presented with details of the Top 14 allergens present in foods on the menu. This can be presented on a chalkboard, on the menu itself, in an information pack or pinned to a wall. The ‘food serving establishment’ can no longer state that all foods could contain allergens. Oral statements must be backed up in writing. Environmental Health Officers will be enforcing the regulations and failure to comply will result in large fines.