About a year ago I had lunch with one of our FreeFrom Food Awards judges who wanted me to meet Hannah MacKay, Costa Coffee’s ‘Savoury Development Manager’. Costa were seriously considering putting a gluten-free sandwich/wrap/panini into their shops and she felt that maybe I could provide some useful input.
Putting a gluten-free savoury offer into the Costa shops does not sound that big a deal – they have had gluten-free brownies and Cherry Bakewells for several years – but in fact it was very big step for both Costa, and for ‘freefrom’. Big because they only have space for a very small range of foods in their coffee shops, and if they were going to provide a gluten-free savoury they would do so for every outlet. So they needed to be very sure that it would perform if they were going to risk removing another popular product to make space for it.
We had an interesting discussion during which we covered many aspects of what they were doing, including the possibility of making their gluten-free wrap or sandwich dairy free as well. (It is, relatively speaking, so easy to go that extra step to make products dairy free yet so few people do it – thereby seriously frustrating all those dairy/lactose intolerant people out there!) Over the year we have had occasional conversations in which she reported that all was going well and that the launch of what they had decided would be a wrap would happen in the spring of this year, which it duly did.
So I was very happy to get a call from Hannah last week – about their entry for for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards – but during the course of which she reported that the gluten-free wrap has been a RAVE success. They are flying out of the shops. So much so that they are planning gluten-free Christmas ‘specials’ and, hopefully may look to broadening the range.
And, what was even more satisfactory, she reported that their gluten-free wrap is also dairy free – although for legal reasons*, they do not make the claim on the pack. ‘I heard what you said’, she said! Yessssss!!
On a slightly different note, I am delighted to report that we are now starting to get a steady stream of entries for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards. (We always knew that it would be slow as we had a very long entry period – 3 months – as we wanted to give time for the word to get around.) However, the really nice bit of news here is that, as we had hoped, just being involved in the awards and filling in the form is proving useful for our entrants.
Last week we and an entry from El Piano a totally gluten-free Spanish restaurant in York. (Their other two branches are in Malaga and Granada!) They had a terrible time filling the form (God bless Google Docs….) so we ended up having a lengthy email correspondence during the course of which they said:
‘We are going to get on with re-desigining our DAYBOOK on Sunday to incorporate the emergency shop activity, noting when we shop away from the norm…also, a new menu coming out so will embolden more things than before…MUSTARD for example…
As you can see, just filling in the form was a great experience for us.’
(Both initiatives based on questions we had asked in the form…)
For anyone who is interested, entry for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards closes on August 31st (at midnight!) and all details, include links to the Google docs enter forms, are to the found on the awards site.
* Because no ‘threshold’ for dairy products (the smallest amount that would cause a reaction in a seriously allergic person) has yet been set, there is no ‘level’ to which manufacturers can work. For gluten, for example, the threshold has been set at 20parts per million so provided their products test at under 20 part per million, a manufacture cannot be sued by a consumer for their product being contaminated with gluten. But because no level has yet been set for dairy (or eggs, or nuts or any other allergen), a manufacturer could, theoretically be sued by a consumer if even 1 part per million of the allergen was found in their products, although it is, as of now, impossible to reliably test to that little. As a result, cautious legal departments will not allow marketing departments to make ‘free of’ claims for anything apart from gluten.
We are hoping that what are known as Action Levels (e.g. thresholds) will be established for dairy and a number of other allergens soon. There has been a massive, Europe-wide research project focusing on this for the last ten years and they are hoping to be able to come up with workable levels within the next two to three years.
In the light of various comments complaining that readers had been unable to find the Costa GF wrap in any Costa outlets. I stopped today at a quite small petrol station way down the A3 to get a coffee from their Costa coffee bar – and found four packs of gluten-free wraps on the shelves. Mind you, this was at about 11.30am. I asked whether they were popular and was told, very.