The Alpro saga may have been pushed off the front pages by the Addenbrookes peanut allergy research but it has most definitely not gone away.
Alpro did write a letter to the AlproSOS campaign after ‘the meeting’ in Birmingham, in which they flanneled to little end, failing even to commit themselves to a ‘re-evaluation once the new production facilities were up and running. Since then, silence has reigned.
Well, silence has reigned on Alpro’s behalf, but not elsewhere. The AlproSOS campaign put up their account of the meeting which they summarised, pretty accurately, if minding-bendingly, as follows:
Alpro puts a “may contain traces” of nuts warning on a product that doesn’t contain traces of nuts because they think it’s the only “ethical” way to inform consumers that there might (although probably won’t) be traces in the future, and don’t have confidence in their website or the allergy charity information alerts used by other companies to let consumers know that this might (but probably won’t) be the case. Yet they are happy for consumers to get the clear impression (via their FAQs) that these items are safe to eat until the end of 2014 and will be informing them of the change, when it happens, via their website. Which they didn’t feel was sufficient to inform consumers of the change before it happened…
We sent out a press release covering the issue which has been picked up by various media such as Retail Times, while The Grocer has reported on the curious and sudden departure of John Allaway, the successful commercial director of Alpro for the last 14 years. A departure so sudden that Alpro had no replacement lined up and a temporary commercial director has had to be drafted in from Belgium. Indeed, so sudden was his departure that even though he had personally set up the meeting with the SOS group in Birmingham only days before, when we got there we got there we were told that he had left the company…. One can only assume that he was pushed but the interesting question is, was he pushed because he approved of the defensive labeling or because he opposed it?….
Meanwhile, other dairy-free companies such as Rice Dream are already jumping in to try and fill the gap! See this report in The Grocer again.
Quite apart from the obvious difficulties faced by the families schools of nut-allergic children once all Alpro products carry ‘may contain traces of nut’ warnings, the unique position that Alpro hold in the dairy-free market will force everyone in the allergy world into a horribly contradictory position. For years we have all been encouraging manufacturers to go down the dedicated (gluten-free, nut-free and/or dairy-free) production facility route on the grounds that it is the safest (and, for them, the easiest) way to eliminate the risk of contamination.
Now, in order to protect nut and dairy allergic children’s access to one of their staple foods, everyone is having to reverse their position and promote the virtues of non-dedicated sites – provided, of course, that all the appropriate manufacturing protocols are followed.
There is no doubt that, thanks to a prodigious amount of work by the FSA and organisations such as RSSL, risk assessment and production protocols have improved hugely and, for many products, it is possible to produce reliably allergen-free food from a facility which also uses the allergen. But to do so requires constant vigilance and a significant investment in positive testing on release on the part of the manufacturer.
I cannot help feeling that even though Alpro see combining production as the most commercial option, for any company wishing to seriously invest in the growing freefrom market, the simpler option of excluding the allergens that you wish to exclude from your products from the production facility is the more satisfactory and, in the long run, the cheaper option.