Free from everything but taste

Many years ago I went on holiday to a remote alpine resort and one member of our group (yes, just one) was vegetarian. The hotel didn’t really know how to accommodate his dietary request and were panicked into serving egg and chips on the first night. On the second night, their research into vegetarian cuisine hadn’t advanced and he was presented with a plate of chips and a lump of cheese. But that turned out to be the height of his experience for, on day three, he was back to egg and chips and thereafter our evenings were spent trying to find a restaurant locally that knew what they were doing.

Thank goodness things have changed and there are so many more options for the ever-growing numbers of people who look for alternative options that match their diet, some of whose lives are dependent on eating the right food. Their choices may be driven by health factors or religious beliefs but may also be because of concerns about animal welfare or their conviction to protect the environment through management of natural resources. Whatever the reason and whatever the diet, the days of ‘free from’ have moved on from presenting chips and cheese as a premium menu item.

Thankfully, producers and suppliers now understand the importance of catering for different customers and are prepared to adapt for a consumer market with specific dietary needs. By raising the bar they ensure that this audience has more choice than ever, whether visiting a pub or restaurant, or catering in their own home. Encouraging them to continue investment in further product development and variety is essential for the future of the category and giving recognition for their innovation through the Free From Food Awards is a critical piece of the jigsaw.

The Free From Food Awards were launched in 2008 and remain the UK’s only awards dedicated to free from food and drink. The number of categories in the programme continues to grow and reflects the advances in product development we’ve seen in the intervening years. There are special categories to accommodate Christmas or Easter products to cover every occasion and the awards champion brands across categories as diverse as breakfast goods, grab and go, savoury snacking, speciality, gifting, prepared meals, cheese alternatives and gluten-free alcohol. To be eligible, products must be free from at least one of the top 14 UK-listed major allergens¹ and winning, or even being shortlisted, can generate increased brand awareness and customer loyalty, with an invested social media audience of over 20,000.

You can tell I’m a convert to the aims of the Free From Food Awards and was excited to be invited to be a judge for the 2024 programme. I’m grateful that I don’t have to think too hard about what I can and can’t eat or drink but hope that I can play a small part in supporting those who do by working with this pioneering awards scheme and some of the best free from brands.

For details on how to enter the Free From Food Awards, please see www.freefromfoodawards.co.uk and check back for details of the brands that have clinched an award later in the year.

1. Full details available at www.freefromfoodawards.co.uk/fffoodawards-entry-guide