Events

Pick of the Day: Allergy and Free From Show 2013

allergy-free-from

We’ve been back from the Allergy and Free From Show in London for a while now, and have had time to mull over the various things we learnt, new things we tasted, and food we liked enough to bring home.

Sometimes, it’s a little like coming back from holiday with some kind of local gourmet treat, and finding that it just isn’t as good out of context… In other cases, you know that you’ve found a real treat, and will go out to hunt down more.

Whereas last year, I’d say the theme was cupcakes, this year it was definitely back to basics, but with a twist: pasta (especially fresh), and wraps. My poor coeliac tried so much of both that we didn’t need to find lunch.

The pasta that we really liked came from:

  • Dell’Ugo. Not so much the fresh chickpea pasta—they’d sent me some of this to try in advance, and if you’re missing wholewheat-style pasta, this is the one for you—but the fresh penne and tagliatelle. We thought these were very good, and although they are fresh, they’ll last for 35 days in the fridge, apparently. We will be buying this.
  • Asda’s fresh gluten free pasta deserves a mention too; again, we’d been sent some to try in advance, and it was also good. Sadly, we don’t have an Asda near us, but if you do, you should try it. (Asda are launching 95 new gluten free lines this summer. 95! Go check them out…)
  • Then I must mention Feel Free’s ravioli. We’ve been wanting a decent ravioli for ages, and here it was! This is a frozen meal, with meat and ricotta inside the ravioli, and will be available in Budgens and Londis. We bought some to bring home…
  • and Celi Good’s pasta pronto range (this would be useful for camping/expeditions etc – we bought some of this too)

There were a range of different wraps/flatbreads available. It’s as though manufacturers have suddenly worked out how to do it, so they’re all giving it a try… We liked (and bought) the chapatti from Free From Authentic Foods. BFree were cooking breakfast wraps, which our coeliac enjoyed (these will be in Asda and Ocado, and are probably there now).

Other products that we liked enough to carry home from London:

  • Delidivine’s sausage rolls
  • Sin chocolate brownie
  • Conscious dairy and gluten free raw chocolate (mint)
  • Sensa Glutine pizza bases sold by Bruschetta (a gluten free restaurant in Kingston)
  • ilumi’s ready meals in pouches – ideal for trips away, expeditions etc.

There were lots of new products being launched. I’ve mentioned Asda; Warburton‘s told us they would have new products out by the end of June (we’ve already found brown and seeded wraps!); Sainsbury’s will have new products on the shelves in September, including a chocolate log and gingerbread men.

So which products would we buy again?

Actually, all of the ones we brought home. We picked well!

If you didn’t get to London, do go to Liverpool (get your free tickets here). It’s well worth it. An extraordinary event, packed with great products – and, well, just packed. 21,000 visitors in London over the three days! It just shows how much people want good quality free from products.

Tasting Gluten Free Bread

Have you ever wondered how foods get from idea to plate?

I have, so I’m always interested in finding out how companies go about product development.

Recently, I was invited to join a Dr Schär tasting panel, at an agricultural college in rural Cheshire. (Dr Schär is the company behind several brands. In the UK, these are: DS-gluten free, Glutafin and TRUfree).

The idea was to help them in their product development process. Dr Schär are interested in looking at two things:

  • international differences. Dr Schär sell products in several different countries, including Italy, Germany, US and UK, and people in each of those countries have different preferences for the taste of their bread.
  • validating their internal tasting panels. Naturally, Dr Schär have internal tasting teams, but it is important to check every so often that the internal team understand, and agree with, what the customer wants. It’s easy to see how the internal teams might get ‘acclimatised’ to the taste of their own products…

So they’d invited coeliacs to bring along a ‘mainstream’ friend or family member, so that Dr Schär could see how the various products went down in comparison to mainstream bread.

Dr Schaer are running multiple panels, in a variety of different places, and at different times, but at the one I went to it was noticeable that:

  • I was among the youngest (and I’m over 50)
  • 14 out of the 15 coeliacs on the panel were female

We may or may not have been a representative group; it was an afternoon session, so younger or middle-aged people would have been at school, as my daughter was, or at work.

We were split into 2 groups, one coeliac and one mainstream, with 15 people in each. We tasted 6 different white gluten free breads, and 7 different brown or seeded gluten free breads. The ‘mainstream’ group had a variety of standard bread to taste as well as the gluten free breads.

It was a double-blind test, so I can’t tell you which brands we were tasting, but being able to compare the breads directly was interesting. Because of expense, naturally, it is unlikely that coeliacs would get such an opportunity very often. It would be extremely interesting to know which brands I preferred!

The breads did vary enormously in all aspects, from smell to texture, and one of the questions asked was quite revealing.

For each of the top-ranked and bottom-ranked breads, what was the main reason for its position on the list: appearance, smell, taste, or texture?

Before doing the test, I’d have thought that for me the taste would be the most important. But it turns out that – for me – texture (or mouth-feel) is the most significant element in rating the bread. No doubt, for other participants, other factors, such as smell, might have been more significant.

I wish I’d been able to take my daughter, as I could have found out what she thought too, and perhaps identified a brand of bread she’d prefer to our current favourites.

What do you look for in a gluten free bread?

It’s The Little Things: Allergy & Free From Show 2012

Are you going to London for the Allergy & Free From Show 2012? It’s less than a fortnight away now, but if you don’t have a ticket yet, you can still get a free ticket here.

We’ll be there.

We went last year, and it was great. Exhausting, because it is such a big event, but really enjoyable. We talked to very many different manufacturers, and learnt a lot about new products and services. I just love to see the range of products available to us constantly increasing… and I am delighted by the choice now available!

But the best bit, for me, was when we took a break for lunch in the cafe, which was selling only gluten-free products. That was excellent in itself (and they were pre-packaged, so no risk of cross-contamination). But there was more…

We sat down to eat, and I tucked in to my gluten free houmous and red pepper sandwich, without realising that my teenage daughter didn’t know how to open the triangular box to get at hers. Because she’d never, ever, eaten a sandwich that had been wrapped up and made available for sale before.

I’ll write that again: she’d never eaten a bought gluten free sandwich before. Obviously she’s eaten gluten free sandwiches all her life, but a year ago, we’d never seen one available for sale, still less one wrapped up in a triangular display box.

Such a little thing—a tiny thing—but it shows just how different her experience of life has been from that of most of her peers.

And she was thrilled. Here it is, a year later, and it still comes up in conversation occasionally. The time she had a sandwich like everybody else. And every single time I think about it, I feel a little weepy.

Thanks to Fresh! for that experience. And we’re heading back down to London next week for another visit to the Allergy and Free From Show for more excitement. There’ll be a lot going on, including:

  • try and buy – shopping for new products
  • free seminars
  • consultant dieticians
  • free-from cooking classes from Sainsburys
  • demonstrations
  • parent workshops
  • masterclasses for health professionals.

Will you be there? Or maybe you’d prefer Liverpool, in October? Either way, you can get your free tickets here.

Do come! There might even be sandwiches again…

Warburton’s Host a Gluten Free Gathering

What do you call a group of gluten free bloggers?

Judging by the volume of conversation over the last couple of days, the answer is probably a ‘chattering’.

We—4 bloggers plus 2 coeliac advocates from Coeliac UK—had been invited to Newcastle by Warburton’s for a tour of their gluten free bakery and a discussion of their products.

It’s always instructive to get together with other gluten free communicators, and this was no exception. The other bloggers were:

  • Annie, who runs Annie’s Supperclub – a secret supperclub which is part of the growing underground restaurant scene here in the UK, and which is entirely gluten free
  • Fiona, a gluten free campaigner, from Gluten Free Guerrillas, who runs a Facebook community for coeliacs, their families and friends
  • Katie, a foodie blogger, baker and nutritionist, who runs Apple and Spice, a blog about all the good things in life that are gluten free and vegetarian.

We weren’t there to meet each other, though, or the Coeliac UK team, but to meet Warburton’s, who were very welcoming, friendly and generous hosts: Hannah Flannery, the Product Manager, Graeme Tough, the Manufacturing Manager and Leighton Byrom, Development Technologist, all responsible for the development, production and sales of the Warburton’s gluten free products. And we were there to offer our perspectives on their products (quality, distribution and availability), and on supermarkets provision of gluten free products, as well as discussing ingredients, health matters and more.

We were also offered the chance to taste products due to be launched in the future. I can’t tell you what they are, but I can tell you that we—all of us—loved them. Warburton’s also shared some of their plans for the future.

And I can truthfully say that the enthusiasm and passion for the products demonstrated by the people we met matches the brand promise of Warburton’s, the trusted family baker.

Leighton, the baker, has travelled to Canada and Finland to find best practices in gluten free bread baking, as well as regular visits to supermarkets and cafes around the country to see what is available on the shelves. He’s been tasked with continual improvement of the product – and apparently there are many potential new ingredients that could be used to further improve the bread. And it has improved since it first came on the shelves; we were impressed by the lunchtime sandwiches!

The tour of the bakery was fascinating. After we were all stripped of jewellery, watches and mobiles, and togged up in safety boots, coats and hairnets, with well washed and sanitised hands, we were allowed into the bakery itself.

This is a dedicated facility, demolished and rebuilt to be gluten free from the foundations up – no risk of cross-contamination from non-GF products in there. I’ve never been in a production bakery before, and found it an unexpectedly manual and relaxed operation. We saw the dough being scraped manually into a hopper from which it was extruded into baking tins and wheeled into the proving room, the oven and the cooler, in turn. It takes about 5 hours to produce a loaf from start to finish. At the moment, the factory is not working at full capacity, but obviously Warburton’s will be hoping to change that as they grow their share of the gluten free market.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, none of the staff are gluten free. Not surprising, because the team is a small one; interesting, because Warburton’s need to find a way to get feedback on everything from the product recipe to the distribution and availability issues, without first-hand experience. I guess that’s what we were there for…

I hope that Warburton’s got what they needed from our feedback – they certainly got a lot of it over the 20 hours or so we spent with them!

Gastroenterology Symposium Session Four

The fourth session of the patient symposium was led by Dr R Howard from Birmingham, a clinical psychologist – and also mother to a coeliac teenager. It’s always nice to hear from people who understand the gluten free lifestyle at first hand!

She discussed the psycho-social issues around being diagnosed with a long-term condition, managing the diet, and dealing with undiagnosed symptoms. Here in the UK, it can take up to 13 years before getting a diagnosis, after numerous consultations. We were lucky that our family doctor considered coeliac disease from the outset. Not every doctor has this at the top of mind, because – as we all know – it can present in a wide range of different ways.

We need better diagnosis, for which we need a better education for our family doctors (who can’t, after all, know everything about everything: it wouldn’t be humanly possible). I was impressed to hear the third speaker (Professor Anderson) tell us that AstraZeneca put on a nationwide training programme on coeliac disease for GPs in Australia – and that 50% of family doctors (GPs) have done this training now.

Dr Howard discussed quality of life issues (QoL). Apparently, although there is initially a vast improvement in the quality of life in the first year after diagnosis – as reported by patients – after that, there is a steady decline in reported QoL in adults and adolescents aged 8-16, quite possibly due to poor self-management.

The issue appears to be that in some cases (especially for women) suffering a chronic condition increases anxiety and depression. Once diagnosed and on a gluten free diet, the level of anxiety decreases. However, if people find it difficult to maintain the diet, especially outside the home, then this can lead to increased anxiety, leading to the coeliac trap:

feeling unwell – diagnosis – gluten free diet – anxiety – poor self-management – feeling unwell …

Not surprisingly, parents of coeliacs also report increased anxiety, and a study found that children report more problems of distress and impact on their lives than parents are aware of. (Learning that could be the cause of even more parental anxiety!)

A key factor in achieving a good QoL is believing in one’s own ability to manage the diet. If you understand the issues and know how to manage the diet, you are likely to have a better QoL.

She suggested that counselling might help those people who struggle at managing the diet, in an attempt to break the cycle. If this is you, then don’t be shy of reporting this to your medical professionals; they may be able to help, and this might improve matters for you in the long term.