Tesco: Free From and Finest

tesco-christmasHave you noticed a change in your local Tesco recently?

I have; there’s definitely an enthusiasm about getting new gluten free products out there for us to buy, and it’s made a trip to Tesco mildly exciting – what new products will have sneaked onto the shelves this week?

Yes, I know, how boring must my life be; but when you check the gluten free shelves every time, hoping for treasure and finding only same-old same-old, finding something new truly makes a difference. And inevitably I have to buy the new products to try them!

I was down in London this week for an event hosted by Tesco, where I tasted some of their new frozen party range (both savoury and sweet), and had the chance to meet some of the Tesco people behind the launch of these new products.

The Party range is good. The savoury collection is chicken goujons, mini thai fish cakes and spicy bean bites. I didn’t taste the meat ones, but I did enjoy the others. And the sweet collection is mini cakes (based on almond flour) which are also very good.

I was shown the new Christmas range – some of which is already available to me locally, but some I’ve not seen in any of our local Tesco stores, big or small. This year it includes not only the standard Christmas items of mince pies, Christmas cake, ‘chocolate’ coins and ‘chocolate’ advent calendar, but also:

  • Christmas-tree-shaped crumpets – which look fun for any child
  • a ‘Tesco Finest’ Christmas pudding – so there are 2 gluten free Christmas pudding choices in Tesco
  • and a large Yule log – big enough for an average family.

This is interesting for two reasons:

  • there are now better, and more attractive, child-friendly options than there used to be (remember the days when gluten free meant stodgy fare, sold in boring ‘good-for-you’ packaging? Children want more than dry custard creams in dull two-colour wrappers…)
  • and not only are there an increasing number of gluten free Christmas items in store, there’s a choice of range (the core range and the finest range).

We talked about:

  • The cost of living gluten free. The cost of an average shopping basket inevitably goes up after a diagnosis of coeliac disease. The Tesco team believes that creating own brand versions of items means that the cost can be kept lower. It will be interesting to see if any gluten free products can be made cheaply enough to fit in the Basics range.
  • The difficulties of finding suppliers able and willing to provide gluten free products. It is expensive for suppliers to create gluten free products, and although the demand is rising, it is still quite a niche market, and for many big suppliers, it just isn’t economic to produce gluten free products. For the smaller suppliers, of course, it can be difficult to produce them in the quantities that Tesco would need. It’s a problem…
  • And we talked about their aim, which is to provide gluten free foods that are indistinguishable from not-gluten-free, so that people eating gluten free aren’t made to feel isolated in quite the same way. So as well as extensive taste-testing, they’ve also tweaked the design of the free from packaging, to make it a bit less clinical, and a bit more ‘foodie’.

And they do seem to be having some success: the Tesco Free From Spring Onion and Cheddar Crispbake has been shortlisted against non-gluten-free foods in the Frozen Savoury Foods section of the Quality Foods Awards next week, and the Free From Pollock Fillets have made it to the Frozen Fish shortlist.

The fact that these gluten free products are competing with ‘normal’ products says a lot about how far the free from market has come. (There are some separate Free From sections, and Tesco has products in those too). I’m really looking forward to the next steps!

(Disclosure: Tesco paid my travel expenses, and gave me some Free From products).

Christmas is coming…

christmas-is-comingFeeling Christmassy yet?

I am—at last—it’s the end of term, and I caught myself singing carols in the car. It’s coming soon!

Sainsbury’s kindly sent us some Christmas goodies to taste-test, and I thought I’d share our findings:

  • mince pies

    Coeliac daughter tried the Sainsbury’s gluten free mince pies, and some gluten free mince pies from Udi’s; I tried both these but also—because I am not gluten free—Mr Kipling’s and Tesco Finest.

    And guess what: I preferred the gluten free versions.

    Daughter preferred the Udi’s gluten free mince pies, while I preferred the Sainsbury’s version:

    • I like my mince pies deep-filled; she prefers more pastry
    • I found the Sainsbury’s pastry to be ‘just right’: the Udi’s pastry was too soft for my taste, and the gluten-full pastry too hard. But she likes pastry to be softer.

    It just shows there’s a mince pie for everybody!

  • dairy free chocolate

    I am quite a chocolate fan (dark chocolate, salted chocolate, chocolate with butterscotch, ginger, honeycomb…). I’ve even been known to raid the fridge for milk chocolate when needs must.

    We were pleasantly surprised by the dairy-free chocolate. None of us need to be dairy-free, so we approached it with some caution, having had some deeply unpleasant dairy-free versions in the past. But we didn’t need to worry; Sainsbury’s dairy-free chocolate is—while obviously not true chocolate—a very reasonable facsimile of a milk chocolate. And they’re offering not only dairy-free chocolate bars for Christmas, but traditional chocolate coins – and a chocolate advent calendar.

    No comparison-tasting here: we know what chocolate tastes like!

  • and the gingerbread man

    I’ve missed the gluten free gingerbread man; and he’s back! There used to be gluten free gingerbread men sold with free from chocolate buttons, and with icing pens, and they were great party material… all my children have outgrown cake-decoration as a party activity, but I do recommend it. Just take these gingerbread men, add icing and sweeties to decorate, and wait for the mess.

    These gingerbread men are quite crunchy—like gingernuts—so tiny children might just eat the decorations – but I liked them. And it would be nice to see a gingerbread woman too; there’s more space on a skirt for decorations!

Roll on Christmas – are you ready yet?

Christmas is Coming: Mince pies

I know it’s only the first week of October, but I’ve already eaten enough mince pies to have lucky months until April next year…

We were recently sent a box of the new Genius gluten free mince pies to sample, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Surprised because occasionally some of the gluten free mince pies I’ve tasted in the past have been disappointing – hard pastry, a strong aftertaste, odd smell or unpleasant ‘feel’, or not enough mincemeat to the amount of pastry. The same is true of many ‘normal’ mince pies too, to be fair!

And because I’ve not been able to track down any of the new pastry from Genius yet, I wasn’t expecting much.

But these are very nice indeed. In fact, I accidentally ate two today – I love a mince pie.

The mincemeat is excellent, and generously dolloped into the pastry shells. It is moist, with a good consistency, and clearly contains a variety of sultanas, currants and raisins. And there’s a good taste of Bramley and spice. No mixed peel or chopped nuts, which do detract from a mince pie, in my view! And the mincemeat is vegetarian; another important factor. Not vegan: the pies do contain egg and milk.

If I was going to quibble, I’d say that the pastry was a little pale, but that was not a problem: it is soft and tasty, with no grittiness or aftertaste. (If you’ve eaten a lot of gluten free products, you’ll know exactly what I mean here!) If the new pastry is anything like this, I’m going to redouble my efforts to find somewhere that will sell it to me.

These mince pies are definitely worth trying. They’ll be available in Tesco from October 17th, apparently – I do hope this will include my own local Tesco, because I still need to eat myself happy for April-December 2012…

Gluten Free Christmas Dinner at Sainsburys

Bizarre as it sounds, given that this is still early October, I helped Sainsbury’s cook a Christmas dinner last night.

Well, in theory. In practice I spent too much time chatting to the other guests to do much cooking, so the fact that we had a delicious meal is no credit to me.

Among many others, I chatted to Dena from Beautiful, Active, Nourished, a nutrition and health business based in South Manchester, where she runs clinics and also has a gluten free bakery/patisserie; and Kate, from Postcards from a Gluten Free Life. Kate recommended Bake A Boo in West Hampstead for afternoon tea; if I ever take my coeliac daughter to London (after a must-do trip to Sainsbury’s in Pimlico, which apparently has the biggest gluten free range in the country), that’s where we should go.

I also met Kirsty from Worthenshaws, whose new Freedom desserts won approval in the Dragons Den – they’re now available across the country. Like many others, her son has a nut allergy and dairy intolerance; unlike almost all others, she decided to set up a business to create foods he could eat and enjoy.

I talked search engine optimisation with Darren from PHD, and social media with Hayley from Dare. And it was good to meet the Sainsbury’s team, some of whom I met in February.

I wish I’d had more time to talk to the other gluten free bloggers – such an interesting mix of people. Do go and check out http://www.glutenfreemrsd.blogspot.com, for instance,and http://www.theparticularkitchen.com/.

Apart from all the talking, we produced between us (though the Sainsbury’s Try Team did the bulk of the work) an excellent meal, suitable for many and various allergies and intolerances, as well as lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism. I definitely want the Sainsbury’s recipe for almond nut roast, as it was wonderfully moist – and gluten free. (Though I forgot, again, to collect the recipe for gluten free profiteroles, despite working on that station. I wonder how they turned out? I had to catch the last train north…)

It’s clear from the guest list that Sainsbury’s work closely with other organisations such as Coeliac UK, and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, though they also have an internal team dedicated to the development and production of free from foods.

Sainsbury’s re-emphasized that they want to be seen as the #1 provider of free from foods, and that they welcome feedback from customers. That’s you and me. And do you know what? I believe them.

So if you’d like them to change something in their free from range, or if you think there’s something missing from the range altogether, let them know!

Most interesting snippet from the evening: they’re working on an app for your smartphone, so that you can assess the suitability of food instore by swiping the barcode. How cool is that?

A gluten free Christmas: Day 24


Wishing you a happy – and gluten-free – Christmas!

Here’s a summary of all the posts in this Christmas series:

Day 1: gluten free Advent calendars
Day 2: gluten free Christmas pudding
Day 3: gluten free Christmas cake
Day 4: gluten free Christmas presents
Day 5: gluten free school Christmas dinner
Day 6: gluten free Christmas communion
Day 7: gluten free Christmas shopping
Day 8: gluten free mince pies
Day 9: gluten free social media
Day 10: gluten free at the office Christmas party
Day 11: gluten free Christmas kisses
Day 12: halfway there – are you ready yet?
Day 13: gluten free panettone and stollen
Day 14: gluten free Christmas hampers
Day 15: gluten free chocolate truffles
Day 16: gluten free Buche de Noel, or Yule Log
Day 17: gluten free Christmas turkey trimmings
Day 18: gluten free recipe books
Day 19: gluten free custard, brandy butter and cream
Day 20: gluten free breakfast
Day 21: gluten free gingerbread and salt dough decorations
Day 22: gluten free vegetarian Christmas dinner
Day 23: surprise gluten free visitors
Day 24: Today!