I will be part of a Consumer Panel at the Food and Drink Innovation Network UK FreeFrom food & drink industry summit in September. It promises to be a terrific, inspirational event for people in the Free From Food business. I am there along with fellow Panel members to offer consumer insights to the business delegates. As preparation, I am thinking in advance of my own answers to three questions.
Q1. What have Free From Producers done to please and impress?
Q2. What could Free From produces improve upon?
Q3. What could Food Service (restaurants, cafes, all providers of meals outside the home) improve upon?
Here are my thoughts, and I would love to hear yours too.
Q1. What have Free From Producers done to please and impress?
I remember when there were whole coconuts and dried coconut and . . . maybe a can of coconut milk or cream.
Now, well here are just *some* of my own favorites. Coconut Aminos as an alternative to Soy and Tamari sauce. Coconut Kefir and Coconut Ice Cream as alternatives to dairy kefir and dairy or nut based ice creams. Coconut Jerky as an alternative to meat jerky. Coconut Macaroons as an alternative to nut based macaroons. Then of course you have Coconut Oil and the lesser known Coconut Butter as alternatives to butter. I surely do not need to mention Coconut Milk.
We may have reached and even passed ‘Peak Coconut’. Coconut products are now so common you may even consider them overdone. I remain intrigued. Is there anything left for coconut to do?
Emergence of Free-14 Foods
Great free from food is simply great food which can be enjoyed by more people thanks to it being free from. Free-14 refers to the absence of all 14 major allergens. Some foods are now being deliberately formulated to exclude all 14 allergens. This makes them part of the Free-14! Revolution!
My recent favorite here is the Gosh! range of burgers, bakes and bites
The Wonderful Range of Free From treats
Biscuits, scones, muffins, cakes of all sizes, a million and one brownies, flapjacks. Even doughnuts! Whatever you might enjoy as a treat chances are there are now lots of good options available. These are well appreciated. Treats are nice. I especially like the de-glutenisation of dearly loved treats like Hobnobs.
So long as we do not talk about Croissants, this category is well covered. We must not talk about Croissants. There are no croissants.
Q2. What could Free From producers do better? (within reason!)
The Meaning of ‘May Contain’?
Otherwise known as “Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL)” the problems of “May Contain” are not easy to fix. You find it on a food label. Is it safe or not safe or somewhere in between? What should you do? Many adopt the extreme of either ignoring it completely or avoiding all foods which feature it.
I would personally like greater disclosure from producers on what risks exist and what they do to minimise risk. I would like this to be easily accessible from their websites. I usually get this information when I specifically write and ask. Why do I need to write and ask though? Make it easier please!
Wheat where Wheat must not be
Oooh, this one really annoys me. I understand and accept that wheat is a cheap binder, filler and bulking agent. But wheat in Falafel? Falafel? Seriously? Stop ruining Falafel!!
No! Cauldron Foods
Yes! This is how to do it! Great Foods
In other words, geez, please do not actually modify a food to contain wheat that really should not be there in the first place. Just no. This is not limited to Falafel. I just love Falafel.
Free From Aisle
It is lovely to find food safe to eat colocated in one area of a supermarket. It is lovely to have a range of treats. It is less lovely that there appears to be more focus on free from treats and junk foods than there is of making a broader range of foods available free from. Free from aisles and stands are often populated with products that are reformulations of starches (tapioca, rice, maize, potato), sugar, salt and fat. Super, nice. Give us more of the healthier options too please. In addition to. Not instead of. Do not take away the brownies.
Salt and Sugar
This is not specific to free from products but is relevant to them. UK Government recommendation for adults is to eat no more than 6 grams per day. Salt can often be added to ready made foods like soups and meal pots . It cannot be taken away. So please producers, empower us to choose how much salt we consume by reducing the amount already included in foods you make for us.
World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults consume no more than of 5% of calories as sugar. That is about 25 grams per day. Preferably fewer. Many products out there meet or exceed that maximum in one serving. If any Snack Bars are reading this, yes, we are talking about quite a few of you. Reducing daily sugar intake appears to be desirable for both health and weight control. Fewer high sugar and more lower sugar choices would be welcome. Fewer promotions on high sugar products and more on low sugar options might help too.
Q3. What could Food Service improve about Free From offerings?
Food service refers to providers of ‘meals outside the home’. Think restaurants, caterers and their suppliers.
Accessing ingredient lists and allergen labelling
Sometimes I see excellent ingredient lists with allergens highlighted just like they would or should be on a product label. However I often see no list at all which means to find out anything about the safety I need to ask. I need to ask the people that are busy serving or preparing. This is not easy for me or them.
Please make the ingredient lists and allergen labelling easily available and visible. It is a great start.
Accessing Cross-Contamination risk information
Very few venues can “guarantee” that food is free from. To do so they would need to eliminate the allergen not only from their own kitchen but from their supply chain. What most venues that offer free from food do instead is control risk. Kitchen staff training, protocol, separate surfaces, utensils, fryers, grills, front of house staff training. Risk is not eliminated. It is reduced and controlled.
Oddly, many restaurants do not make it easy to know what they do to control risk. Their menus do not describe it. Nor their websites. Their front of house staff are not able to describe it confidently. The manager or chef can but why should I need to speak to them and only them? I want to know so I can make an informed choice. I want to find out quickly and simply and preferably in advance.
There are some great examples of useful disclosure. Wahaca describe their approach in detail on their gluten free menu. Pizza Express provide at least some information although I think it would be useful for them to add that their gluten free bases are made in off-site kitchens too. They are still the exceptions. Make this the norm. Make it easy.
Something other than Sorbet for Dessert please?
Seriously. Oh, and if you make it Sticky Toffee Pudding with Dulce de Leche ice cream, double points <transition to food daydream>