Well, here I am, three days on, still ploughing through tasting sheets and judges’ comments – and realising, especially in the light of some of the comments on my previous blog, that the FreeFrom Food Awards are less of an industry award than a blueprint for how freefrom should progress in the world.
In my earlier post I asked which should be more important – deliciousness or innovation in terms of manufacturing technique – and was firmly slapped down by most of those who commented who maintained that products should be both innovative and delicious. So there is a challenge for you, food manufacturers….
However, those are not the only parameters that apply… There is also the nutritional profile, how gastronomically ‘wacky’ the food should be, whether we should be aiming for food exclusively manufactured on dedicated premises – and how important, in the overall assessment of the product, is its labellling.
When freefrom first got under way, no one cared about its nutritional profile as long as it actually was free from gluten/dairy/nuts etc. But we have, thank goodness, moved on. Along with the push to eliminate hydrogenated fats and reduce salt in our diet is a general aspiration towards food with fewer additives/manufacturing aids, made from ‘real’ ingredients. This is especially important in freefrom as most of those who eat freefrom food either already have compromised health or are anxious to maintain their health, so the nutritional content of their food is very important to them. So, in assessing a product for an award, we need to take its nutritional profile into account.
The ‘raw’ food lobby
Following on from this, where do what may be seen as rather ‘wacky’ foods, such as ‘raw’ foods, sit? They are certainly nutritious and have extremely ‘clean’ (eg no additives) ingredients lists but for many people they taste just plain weird. There were several ‘raw’ foods entered for this year’s awards and judges were neatly divided into those who thought they were absolutely delicious and those who thought they were totally disgusting. What does the poor chair do in that situation?…..
Then there is the dedicated plant argument…
Those with serious allergies or intolerances believe that the only way that they will ever be truly safe is if their food is manufactured in a ‘dedicated’ factory where their particular allergen is never allowed on the premsies. But those who operate in plants where specific allergens are also used, maintain that clean down methods are so thorough and so sophisticated that they can reduce the risk of contamination to a negligible level – and that even if a product is manufactured in a dedicated factory, that does not prevent it getting contaminated with an allergen once it leaves their factory and is no longer under their control. So even products made in dedicated plants are not 100% safe.
So are we only to include products made in dedicated plants? That would significantly reduce the number of products that were able to enter the awards meaning that the awards would really not give an accurate view of what was on the market and therefore be of little value to the consumer as a benchmark.
And then, what about labelling?
Accurate labelling is vital for a freefrom product. Shopping freefrom is a time consuming business when you have to scrutinise every ingredients list from top to bottom. The information given on pack needs to be accurate and easily legible. Should this be taken into account when judging whether a product deserves an award?
For once, judges were relatively united on this issue and agreed that inaccurate, confusing, obscurantist or illegible labelling would down-grade a product. The two most flagrant examples were a mix which claimed, in a large box, to be free of everything in the world, including dairy and then told you to make it up with milk – and a dried pasta that, in its allergens box, claimed that it ‘might contain’ amongst a series of other unlikely ingredients, ‘traces of molluscs and shellfish’…. For more on ‘may contain’ gone mad, see my post on Green & Blacks.