Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, director of the FreeFrom Awards and editor of the FoodsMatter websites.
The FoodsMatter team had been running retail ‘freefrom’ food awards for seven years when the new Food Information for Consumers regulations came into force in December 2014. On the whole we felt that they had made a significant difference by setting a standard of excellence and raising awareness of the difficulties faced by coeliacs and those with food allergies. The free-from food market is now worth more than half a billion pounds a year.
However, although things had improved dramatically in the retail sector, eating out was still a major problem. To the point, indeed, that most people with food issues simply did not eat out. They feared that they would not be safe, or that they would have no choice (baked potato and a salad again…), or that it would all just be too embarrassing. But the market both here and in the US is growing hugely. Across the Atlantic more than 200m gluten-free orders were placed in restaurants in 2013.
So we decided to extend our retail activities into food service and set up the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards. And I am delighted to say that one of our very first supporters was the SRA.
The first FreeFrom Eating Out Awards opened in June 2014 with six categories: cafés, pub restaurants, restaurants, hotels and guest houses, hospitality and schools and universities – plus a category for foods manufactured for food service. The following year we added fish and chip shops. We received generous support from the industry, with Sodexo as headline sponsors for the first two years.
The new food service regulations had been greeted with horror by many food service providers. But even in year one we were surprised by the excellence of some of our entrants: both their care for their food sensitive customers and the quality of the food that they offered. By year two many of those who had started just as gluten-free restaurants realised that the need was much wider and were catering very successfully for guests with multiple allergies.
Many of our early award winners were small establishments run by people with a very personal connection to allergy or coeliac disease. However, we are delighted to say that in year three entrants also include a number of the bigger national pub, restaurant and coffee chains. You can read full details of the 2015 winners here.
Entrants need to complete a detailed on line entry form, designed to tease out how much they understand about catering for food sensitive people, by 15 September. Assuming that they ‘get through’ that stage they will be visited, incognito, by food awards judges to assess the quality of their food. The presentation of the awards is at the Food Matters Live event on November 22nd.
For a link to the appropriate entry form please email [email protected].