The Free From Food Awards
The Free From Food Awards (FFFAs) are the UK’s only award dedicated to free from food & drink. Now in their 16th year they are an established and much anticipated event in the free from calendar and celebrate the very best, from staples such as breads and pasta to food service and speciality products.
Small producers and supermarkets compete on a level playing field due to our policy for blind judging, and winning products are recognised as benchmarks in the business. Our eye-catching logo offers assurance that a product has been rigorously tested through a ‘free from lens’ and has compliant/good labelling. An independent endorsement such as this provides a genuine benefit, acting as a signifier of both quality & trust.
Averaging 8% year on year growth, this year entries were up 10%. We have frozen entry fees for 5 years and this year we altered our entry fee structure with the entry cost scaled to company turnover aiding accessibility for all.
All categories were well supported including several new categories introduced such as Keto and Healthier Snacking, plus several new Meal Solution categories including Meal Kits and Online Meal Plans, demonstrating the increasing breadth of the free from offer.
Featuring over a hundred chefs, manufacturers, dieticians and allergy reactors, many of our judges are well-known figures in the food and allergy worlds. Unlike other awards, we consider all aspects of a product; quality, price, relevance to core target, free from credentials, technical challenges and innovation. If a product is worthy it gets a medal, and this year much to our delight we had a 60% increase in medal winners, reflecting the huge amount of successful effort and investment put into free from development and production in the last 12 months!
Feedback from our panels can be invaluable to manufacturers and we pride ourselves on being instrumental in encouraging development and innovation in the free from market.
Why are the FFFAs necessary?
Allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe. Up to 20% of patients with allergies live with a severe debilitating form of their condition, and struggle daily with the fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction.
— The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI)
“Disorders where allergy may be involved affect about 1 in 3 of the UK population (around 20 million people). 6-8% of children up to the age of three years have a food allergy and it is estimated that one in 1,333 of the population in England has experienced anaphylaxis at some point in their lives. In the decade 2002-12 there was a doubling of admissions with anaphylaxis due to food allergy alone.” The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation
More and more people are turning to free from food & drink as they and their children are being diagnosed with sensitivities to certain foods.
Whilst safety is the number one priority, the free from consumer is looking for an equitable experience. They have a desire to enjoy food in the same way others can, and whilst living with food allergies and intolerances restricts choice it doesn’t restrict the desire for great tasting food.
The FFFAs recognise the growing number of consumers for whom free from food and drink is an essential part of life, and want to help connect them to quality & innovative products that are safe for them.
And it’s a celebration for all those behind the products, many of whom have worked tirelessly, overcoming numerous challenges, investing time & money to bring a product to market. From developers & technical teams to brand & marketing it’s a fantastic way to recognise and mark these achievements.
What pressures exist for free from manufacturers, and how do these affect the free from and allergic consumer?
Growth in the sector has slowed due to financial pressures. Free from consumers don’t have the same opportunities to ‘trade down’ so many look at avoidance; how can they remove certain free from products from their baskets to help manage their spend. It’s important that the momentum behind free from is maintained during these more challenging times.
Growing saturation in the market limits development opportunities and this is compounded by the fact that retail space is at a premium. And it’s harder to be nimble in free from, reacting to supply issues for example, as complete transparency is needed.
Procurement in the UK is challenging and even more so outside of the UK due to allergen controls, with differing approaches, processes & thresholds.
Free from and allergic consumers are, on the whole, understanding and are incredibly supportive of the brands & products they love but they are completely unaware of challenges and costs involved in ensuring the safety of their products.
Clear labelling and on pack/online statements help the consumer to navigate safely, but there remains a need to zero in on ‘may contain’ warnings or precautionary allergen labelling. What does it really mean? How do we shift focus to generate a positive culture around allergen labelling, to help empower consumers and keep them safe?
What’s next for the Free From sector and the FFFAs?
We continue to evolve the awards to reflect the needs of both manufacturers and consumers, and ensure we are actively engaging with both audiences. In doing this we bring to the fore great quality and innovative products, and inspire, challenge and support the industry to keep the momentum behind free from.
There is so much to be celebrated. We are a catalyst for harnessing all this energy, motivation and expertise to inspire others so that collectively, as a free from industry, we continue to push for what is going to make life that bit easier, safer, and tastier, for allergy reactors.
We support others in the sector who are creating and contributing to more inclusive environments like Food Allergy Aware’s Mock Trial and The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation’s Allergy Tsar campaign; and those who are working from the ground up such as Dr Rosy Wells and the paediatric allergy clinicians at St George’s Hospital, who for the last 3 years have been giving out free allergy bags to local schools with AAIs, other medication and training in order to keep food allergic children safe; and access to a free Allergy Awareness Primary School Assembly Pack including a presentation and activity sheets aiming to educate children about allergies and how to keep friends safe, led by Julianne Ponan MBE of Creative Nature, launched during Allergy Awareness Week and spiralling from an initial target of 3000 children to reaching over 100,000 and rising!
We also support crucially-needed shifts in perception around food allergy:
- Any food / drink can be an allergen, not just the top 14 listed allergens, which makes on-pack ingredients list so important
- The allergy reactor simply wants to know whether or not a food / drink might kill them
- By failing to cater for allergy reactors you are missing miss out on the allergic pound – it’s critical that every member of a group feels, and is, safe
These are conversations that are not going away, they are becoming louder as more people are being diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances.