Cressida Langlands, director of the Free From Food Awards (FFFA) is our guest blogger this edition. Here she talks about what the FFFA’s are, what they aim to achieve and why they’re necessary.
What are the FreeFrom Food Awards?
The FreeFrom Food Awards (FFFAs) are the UK’s only award dedicated to Freefrom food & drink. Now in their 14th year they are an established and much anticipated event in the Freefrom calendar.
The FFFAs celebrate the very best in Freefrom food and drink, from staples such as breads & pasta to foodservice and artisan products. Small producers and supermarkets compete on a level playing field and products winning one of our coveted awards are recognised as benchmarks in the business. Our eye-catching yellow logo offers assurance that a product has been rigorously taste tested and has compliant/good labelling. An independent endorsement such as this provides a genuine benefit to the freefrom consumer, acting as a signifier of both quality & trust.
Since 2008 over 5,000 Freefrom products have been blind tasted by our specialist judging panels. Featuring over a hundred chefs, manufacturers, dieticians and allergy reactors, many of our judges are well-known figures in the food and allergy worlds. Feedback from our panels has proved invaluable to manufacturers and we pride ourselves in having been instrumental in encouraging development and innovation in the freefrom market.
Why are the FFFAs necessary?
The UK has one of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world with over 20% of the population affected by at least one allergic disorder, and prevalence is growing. Allergy UK
More than 1 in 5 of the UK population consider themselves to have a food allergy or intolerance with milk and gluten reportedly the most common allergens. YouGov Understanding Food Allergies and Intolerances (2016)
“The number of people living with allergies in the UK is rising by 5% every year. The ‘first wave’ of allergic disease occurred some 50 years ago with a huge surge in asthma and hay fever. We are now experiencing a ‘second wave’ of allergic disease, which has presented itself with a sharp increase in people suffering from life threatening food allergies. Figures from 2012 suggest at least 1 in 40 children in the UK are suffering from at least one serious allergy.
Worryingly, in the last decade, hospital A&E emergency departments have seen a huge increase in anaphylaxis admissions. Today, more children than ever are being diagnosed with food allergies, as are an increasing number of adults, to foods that were previously safe for them to eat.” The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation
It’s therefore not surprising that more and more people are turning to Freefrom food as they and their children are being diagnosed with sensitivities to certain foods.
Whilst safety is the number one priority, the Freefrom 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 Freefrom foods are an essential part of life, and want to help connect them to quality & innovative products that are safe for them.
‘I want to indulge in the same way as the rest of my family’
What do the FFFA aim to achieve?
The FFFAs seek to both celebrate and reward a vast array of food and drink for allergy reactors, and especially those which enable the allergic consumer to quickly navigate and understand whether they are suitable and safe to eat. We encourage excellence in existing and new product development and celebrate those manufacturers who go the extra mile.
The FFFAs aim to reflect what is important to the consumer and whilst some categories have been with us since the very start others come & go. This ensures we remain relevant to both entrants & consumers. As an example, however good a product is, allergy reactors have to have complete confidence in the safety of the product. Over the years we have seen so many frustrations over poor, sometimes illegal, labelling that we wanted to raise the importance of getting this right. The ‘Best Labelling for a FreeFrom Product’ category was launched this year to celebrate clear and informative labelling for allergy reactors and by doing so we hope to encourage and support others to re-evaluate their labelling, having seen which labels and brands are doing it right.
There is so much to be celebrated. We want to lead this celebration and be the catalyst for harnessing all this energy, motivation and expertise to inspire others so that collectively, as a Freefrom industry, we continue to push for what is going to make life that bit easier, and tastier, for allergy reactors.
‘Sometimes you feel like you are gambling with freefrom’
Supporting every endeavour with constructive feedback:
Every entry receives feedback from our judges, a very valuable resource and something we pride ourselves on. We have, and cultivate, an extensive & passionate network that provides unrivalled expertise that many of our entrants have benefitted from.
For a critical & complex area such as labelling, for example, the importance of this feedback from a panel of industry experts is huge. Good labelling makes it crystal clear to everybody, from allergy reactors to those with food sensitivity, whether it is safe or unsafe for them – without any doubt and minimal risk of error. This is as important to this community as the range and quality of the foods and we want to play our part in celebrating, rewarding and encouraging improvements in both.
‘I want my son to be able to enjoy the same memories as my daughter, the excitement of receiving & then opening an advent calendar, making gingerbread at Christmas….’
We will continue to evolve the awards to reflect the needs of both entrants and consumers, ensuring we are actively engaging with both audiences. In doing this we will bring to the fore not only great quality and innovative products, but we hope to inspire, challenge and support the industry to keep the momentum behind Freefrom.
We seek to support others in the food sector who are becoming more and more vocal about food allergies. Bloggers, charities, businesses and even the government are starting to talk more about allergens – eg see the FSA #speakupforallergies campaign.
We want to amplify the discussion already taking place in the allergy community so that it reaches the places that can really make a difference. Unfortunately COVID has pushed food allergen issues to the back of the queue and many eateries have started using statements that preclude those with allergies and anaphylaxis eating in their establishments because of the inability of the eatery to cater for them – even some stalwarts that have long been champions of the allergy reactor.
Although manufacturers are taking the allergy conversation seriously, it seems that since the pandemic that conversation has lost ground with restaurants and eateries. Many allergy reactors have recently been told that they cannot now be catered for due to issues with trace contamination of allergens. The irony is that contamination prevention measures and safety procedures for both allergens and COVID are almost identical – wash everything frequently and well!
We also want to give voice to crucially-needed shifts in perception around food allergy such as:
- Any food can be an allergen, not just the top 14 listed allergens
- What makes your food different for the allergy reactor is that it is not going to harm them. They want to know whether or not it might kill them
- If you do not cater for allergy reactors, you will miss out on the allergic pound – friends and family are far less likely to order a pudding if one of a group cannot also indulge safely
These are conversations that are not going away, they are becoming louder as more people are being diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances. “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)