Why are the Free From Food Awards so important and what do they mean for you?!
(This article was originally written for Foods Matter)
Imagine eating food, and loads of it for your job. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it!
I’ve had the honour of being a judge in the Free From Food Awards for three years, and this year in particular I was really looking forward to it for a number of reasons.
The Free From Food Awards are an exciting time in the calendar as a judge, not just for what they represent in the free from market but also for new safe foods that I can discover. Particularly as I benchmark them against whether they’re Callum safe. If they're safe for Callum then they get bonus points from me during the judging process because it means that they cater to a much larger market that often gets left out.
I’m sure many of you will agree that food is big business, and never has a market seen such an incredible expansion than that of the free from arena. Indeed, The Grocer last year reported a rise of more than 40% in sales of free from foods, with Brits spending an extra £230m on free from food in the past year alone. The growth has been so spectacular, the market value has now grown to £806.1m.
I had to read that figure twice, just to be sure I’d got it right! It has seen truly monumental growth on an unprecedented scale and it’s set to continue for the foreseeable! Now, for those of us needing to buy free from foods this is great news. Long gone are the days where the majority of the free from food available was simply gluten-free. Don’t get me wrong, they were much needed, but it’s wonderful to see that other allergies are also now included and catered for.
For anyone who does their weekly food shop in one of the big four supermarkets, it’s hard not to see that Tesco and Asda have doubled their free from range, and now offer hundreds of products to cater for those who seek gluten-free and dairy-free food. Morrisons and Sainsbury’s are catching up with them too, with dedicated dairy-free cheese in particular being championed by Sainsbury’s.
Add to this the new artisan companies creating and selling stunning produce each year, and it’s fair to say it’s looking quite rosy!
And each year of judging the Free From Food Awards sees ever more products being entered as producers clamour to be seen in the marketplace. Shortlisted products, and category winners get the prestigious yellow badge of honour to place on their labels and it is these that stand out on the shelves and shout their worth!
As a judge I find it a fascinating process, and I look forward to each January with much anticipation over product ranges that may have expanded. Or perhaps new recipes successfully brought to market.
But it’s also more than that!
As a parent of a child with multiple severe allergies, I get so excited for Callum.
Life is tough with allergies
Life is tough with allergies, everyone will tell you that. We’re going through additional battles at the moment with Callum’s health that are testing us to the core, which I’ll share another time, but living every day with allergies can prove somewhat challenging.
With multiple allergies involved, more often than not you need to cook absolutely everything from scratch to ensure it is safe and has no cross-contamination issues.
Now, that’s all very well if you work from home like me, or you work part time. But what of the parents who work full time and have very busy schedules. Cooking becomes another chore, another burden to complete on a daily basis and there’s no enjoyment. It becomes a necessity. And that’s not what food should be about, it should be enjoyed and not seen as hard work.
I’m all for cooking from scratch, and it really is the healthiest option as you can ensure that minimal sugar and salt is added and use fresh produce for optimum nutrients to remain. But then, I’m a true foodie and love creating recipes and dishes for everyone to enjoy.
For many, life gets in the way, and I too, like to sometimes grab something ready-made to make life a bit easier.
So, for me, these awards don’t just showcase the producers and help them, they also help the families that need that little bit of extra support. Ready meals that can be grabbed off the shelf, without guilt, in the knowledge they are safe!
Going out for the day, and knowing you have safe food to take that won’t see you in the kitchen for hours, preparing it all beforehand.
Having a back up is a godsend!
Sometimes, knowing you have back up is enough to make things seem just that little bit easier.
Where before there was only a handful of products on offer, now you can get the likes of breads, sauces, spreads, sweet treats and more.
Just three years ago when I first started judging, there was only a handful of safe products. Last year we got to 18. I am so pleased to be able to say that this year, I found a record 62 (yes that’s right, 62!) Callum safe products.
These range from breads, sauces, cereals, vegan egg replacer, cake, biscuits, crisps, pizza bases, alternatives to meat, chocolates, milks, yoghurts and more!
I was judging on 4 days, so there could well be more to add to this impressive haul!
How exciting is that!
62 products that are safe for a multi allergic child, who struggles to find safe food on occasion. These are products that are predominantly mainstream, and so easy to get hold of.
It’s truly game changing!
And what’s more, because they’ve been entered into these awards, they will have received the PR that comes with the awards that will help to boost their profiles even more.
I’d love to tell you who were outright winners, who got silver awards and who were shortlisted as great products to watch, but I would get into a lot of trouble.
All will be revealed at a glittering awards night to be held in London in April, where I promise to share all the details of the awards as they are announced.
Until then, keep your eyes peeled for new products on the market when you go shopping, and give them a try if safe to. And if you want to see the confirmed shortlist of products who are eagerly waiting to find out if they've won, check out all the details here!
You won’t be disappointed, we certainly weren’t!
I know most of you will anyway, but also keep buying the free from products you already love so that the producers continue to make these wonderful new products otherwise they may leave our shelves, and that would be such a shame!