I realise, with horror, that it is well over a week since I even looked at this blog – but I blame it all on ‘freefrom’…..
It has, indeed, been a heavy couple of freefrom weeks: the closure of the entry for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards on August 31st, an exciting webinar on the fall out from the new allergen labelling for Romer Labs (the first time I had done a webinar – great fun…), then the FDIN’s two day FreeFrom Summit last week and now, the opening of the 2015 FreeFrom Food Awards next week!
All of this has been really interesting and enlightening but probably the most interesting were the results of a YouGov survey that FDIN had commissioned for the summit. We had asked them to go out and find out just how big that ‘freefrom’ market was and how it was made up. Their report will be available in detail on the FDIN website next week but the ‘headline’ figures caused some very rapid intakes of breath. Viz:
- Over 1 in 5 (22%) of the UK population now consider themselves to have a food allergy or intolerance
- An increase of 5% compared to 2011
- Almost 1/3 (31%) of UK households include at least one allergy or intolerance sufferer
- 17% of UK households including children have at least one child with a food allergy or intolerance
Of course, the immediate objection to these figures, from a medical perspective at least, is that YouGov’s data is based entirely on ‘self reporting’ – none of the interviewees (or at least very few of them) will have had a diagnosis of allergy or of a condition that requires them to be on a restricted, ‘freefrom’ diet. This is, of course, perfectly true but…
The only sensitivity condition for which the NHS offers a diagnosis is ‘true’, IgE mediated food allergy. So there is no way that the huge constituency of those who have health, and particularly digestive problems without there being anything organic or diagnosable wrong with them, can get a diagnosis of food sensitivity. All they know is that if they do not eat certain foods, commonly those which include gluten and/or dairy products, their symptoms reduce or go away and they feel much better. So how else can you attempt to assess how many of them there may be except by asking them?
Of course freefrom manufacturers do not care a jot whether a prospective customer has been ‘diagnosed’ or not. The fact the person thinks that they are allergic/intolerant – or believes that ‘freefrom’ food is healthier and will therefore be better for them – and therefore wishes to exclude gluten or dairy, or soya or yeast or whatever from their diet, is quite enough to make them buy that ‘freefrom’ food. So that was one very happy lot of seminar attendees!
Mind you, another stat a little further on in YouGov’s presentation also caused some sharp intakes of breath – but not in a good way! It would appear that, of the total population, 51% of people are not aware of the existence of freefrom food. Well, that is not too bad – indeed it could even be seen as quite positive that 49% have heard of it. What showed that the freefrom industry still has a lot of work to do in terms of raising awareness, even amongst its own, was the 39% of those who claimed to be allergy/intolerance sufferers were totally unaware of the existence of freefrom foods….