UK Tele visits Allergy Show in London and debates food allergy/intolerance
Claudia Connell, The Telegraph, 17 June 2012
Are we really so intolerant or allergic to wheat and dairy products?
‘Free From’ foods are big business yet only 2 per cent of Britons actually have a food allergy
The flavour is a hard one to define, but “corrugated cardboard wrapped around powdery lumps of gristle” comes pretty close to describing what my gluten-free sausage inside a gluten-free roll tasted like. It cost me £5 and ended up in the bin after one disgusting mouthful.
I don’t suffer from a gluten intolerance but I was hungry and lured by the smell when I visited the Allergy Show at London’s Olympia exhibition centre last month.
The two-day extravaganza is the biggest annual event of its kind – the London expo attracted 14,000 visitors, and another will be held in Liverpool in the autumn – and it was there that I discovered that it’s possible to buy any food, from sausages and sweets to cupcakes and curry, free of wheat and dairy.
Only a decade ago specialist foods such as these were hard to come by. If supermarkets stocked them at all, it was on one dusty shelf that offered nothing more exciting than the odd gluten-free loaf. Yet, in the middle of a biting recession, the demand for wheat and dairy-free foods is so great that the “Free From” market is booming. Growing by 15 per cent every year, it is now worth £238 million.
As if to prove this point, I was handed a Tesco goodie bag on arrival at the show. Inside was a dairy and wheat-free snack bar, some hand wipes and a catalogue detailing all its Free From foods – more than 200 in total, including a new range of yogurt, milk, spread and cheese alternatives.
According to Tesco dairy customer manager Paul Duszynski, the retailer was the first in Britain to launch a Free From brand back in 2003. “People who used to suffer the symptoms of intolerance or allergy in silence can now easily find high-quality wheat-, gluten- and dairy-free products when they do their weekly shop,” he adds.
Although the exhibition also targeted people suffering respiratory and contact allergies, the overwhelming number of stands were for food products, with plenty of sample trays for visitors to try. To be fair, not all tasted like that sausage roll. I would never have been able to tell that the cakes and muffins I sampled were wheat-free.
Impressive though the growth in the Free From market is, it is way out of sync with the number of people medically diagnosed with food allergies or intolerances. About 1 to 2 per cent of people in Britain have a genuine food allergy. The same is true of coeliac disease, an auto-immune disorder where someone is unable to eat gluten, the protein constituent of wheat – so why the sudden and huge demand for gluten-free foods?
Read the full article here.