This weekend saw the return of the Allergy & Free From Show to Olympia in London. It is Europe’s largest free-from event, and this year saw its largest attendance to date, with 221 exhibitors all keen to show their wares. As allergies become more and more prevalent, companies are finally beginning to tap into this huge market, and when looking past the gluten free trend and lifestyle choice, are realising there are many more allergies out there that need to be catered for.
After the disappointment of last year’s show where I felt that the show was predominantly geared to gluten-free, and with little available for other allergies, I was keen to see whether anything had changed this year.
In preparation for the event, Callum and I got some fab branded t-shirts from our lovely friend Maria at Rio Workwear Solutions for us to wear - did you spot us in them?
Day 1 – Friday
I was meant to be attending the trade conference, as this is now very relevant to me as The Intolerant Gourmand is a fully running allergy business. Sadly, our childminder was unable to have Callum due to unforeseen circumstances, so he came along with me to check out the show a day earlier than planned, and I had to forgo the trade element.
A trip on a train, tube and bus is always an exciting prospect for a 3 year old, and true to form, Callum was beside himself for the whole journey. He excitedly exclaimed when he saw tractors, diggers, sheep, other trains and more, keeping the entire carriage entertained for the hour long journey into London.
By the time we entered the tube, his eyes were as wide as saucers as he took on another new experience, baffled by the fact the train could work underground. He was blown away by it all!
The last leg of the journey saw us taking a red bus, similar to the very toy he’d brought along to keep him company, apparently it was the ‘best thing ever’.
Entering the show, we were hit by a huge crowd of people swarming past us. It was clear that this year was going to be a busy one. I was pleased to see that advice relayed back to the organisers had been taken on board, there was more space between exhibitors, allowing for people to stop and talk without feeling as if they were blocking anyone in. We quickly checked where the main stands we wanted to visit were, before setting off to find them.
Can I Eat There?
First stop was our new partners, Can I Eat There?, who had a crowd 5 deep. Can I Eat There? Are a fab new restaurant directory, designed with allergies in mind. You can search by location, food offered and can customise menus to suit what you are able to eat. It’s a fantastic concept and one that is fast taking the allergy world by a storm. We are very much looking forward to working with them!
Next up was our friends at Allergy UK, who do a fanstastic job of supporting allergy sufferers all over the country. They had a stand for general information, but were also offering 1-2-1 consultations for anyone with allergy queries, or needing guidance and help. What a fantastic resource to offer during the show!
We popped over to see the lovely Caroline from Biteappy, a new free app which is available worldwide to search for restaurants which cater for specific dietary requirements. Caroline very kindly gave Callum some safe chocolates from No Muu who sponsored some gifts for Biteappy (we are big fans, and I hear they will be at the Liverpool Allergy & Free From Show in November!)
Fun with Allergy Adventures
We then stopped off to do some colouring with the lovely Hailey at Allergy Adventures, and check out the treasure hunt that she had created especially for the show. If you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing what Hailey does, stop everything, and go check it out, right now! The kids will love it! She’s in the middle of launching the most amazing workshop for schools, geared to gentle and easy understanding of allergies and cross contamination. It’s a work of art, and so much fun! I wish we’d had lessons like this when I was at school!!
By this point, Callum was showing signs of being tired (make that fed up!) after the hard work of colouring in, so we headed off in search of food.
Struggling to feed my allergic child
Last year I joked that it would be shocking if I was unable to feed him at an allergy show, of all places! Sadly, things haven’t really changed. Rebel Kitchen took pity on him, and gave him a load of chocolate milkshake, as did the lovely peeps at Koko, but milkshake was not going to fill him up! I’d brought provisions with us, but really wanted to treat him if possible. We eventually found a sweet potato cooked in oil at the Orchard café, and the chef took pity on us and cut up a fresh cucumber to ensure no cross contamination. All the other outlets, including the free from café (!!) were unable to offer anything safe. As with last year, it was geared to gluten-free, but didn’t cater for dairy-free, egg-free etc. Callum has the added issue of tomato-free, amongst his other allergies, which doesn’t help, but even so!
By this time, Callum had completely had enough, his little legs had walked around the whole of Olympia and were too tired to continue, so he lay on the floor whilst I caught up with Anaphylaxis Campaign who have just launched a hard hitting and emotive video designed to show the importance of always having your epi pen to hand. The campaign is called #takethekit – please watch it!
We decided to head off soon after this, and made our way home, ready to prep for the next day!
Day 2 – Saturday with Gram
As with Friday, Callum was ridiculously excited to be back on a train again so soon. It makes for such a pleasurable journey when you have a happy toddler, enjoying absolutely everything going on around them!
After the volume of walking on the first day, I decided to take the buggy with us to help Callum conserve some energy! It was a wise move, not only did it keep him close by instead of having to weave through hoards of people to catch him, it also meant I had somewhere to store the ever increasing selection of samples we were amassing, where some were actually suitable for little dude – happy days!!
With Gram able to watch over Callum, Saturday was much more business focused, catching up with clients, meeting potential new ones, and taking part in the bloggers meet up – a fab new feature, enabling bloggers to network with each other! I really enjoyed this, as not only do you see familiar faces, you get to meet the people behind the twitter names that you constantly interact with. FreefromFairy, Kim McGowan, GFGathering, What Allergy, Fit and Gluten-Free it was lovely to see you all!
At the end of the bloggers meet up, free from brands met with us to give out samples of new products coming to the market, and I have to say, it’s an impressive selection! I was very excited to see that some were even safe for Callum, who was very happy to find out his limited #freefrom foods were about to expand, in the form of chocolate and biscuits. Not exactly healthy, but what 3 yr old would turn down chocolate?!
We met the lovely Nicki from Tesco who was so incredibly helpful in trying to find something safe for Callum to eat. We discovered a new ice cream from Tesco, a dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free vanilla one, which tastes as good as a ‘normal’ version. Nicki was kind enough to donate a tub to Callum, which he kept stocking up from the entire afternoon. He was so happy to know he could safely eat it!
Nicki – thank you so much, you bent over backwards to help us, and I am so grateful!
By this point, Callum was exhausted and had fallen asleep in the buggy, so I grabbed a quick lunch from the café, and Gram and I watched Ruth from What Allergy do her ‘thang’ in Speakers Corner, followed by Nicky from Can I Eat There? talking about what it is like to be an allergy mum and how her company came about!
With Callum still asleep, I took full advantage, and went to chat with the lovely Michelle from the FreeFrom Awards, before literally walking into the lovely Mel and her family from Le Coin de Mel, for a quick catch up!
It was almost time to leave by this point, but we couldn’t go without popping over to say hi to our lovely friends over at Haydn’s Wish, a wonderful charity set up by the amazing Emma and her fab and bubbly support team in memory of her beautiful boy Haydn who sadly suffered a fatal asthma attack brought on by allergies. It’s obviously a subject very close to my heart, so we always show our support to them, and look forward to working with them in the very near future!
After saying goodbye to Gram, we headed home, with me pondering over the show. My overall view is that it was a fab show, it offered so much, and we got meet some fabulous brands. Overall there was a great diversity of exhibitors. It’s good to see that more allergies are now being taken into consideration in terms of the stands, but there is still an issue when it comes to in-house catering not being focussed predominantly on gluten-free and being aware that other allergies do exist. It still amazes me that I can take my allergic child to a show focused specifically on allergies, and I struggle to find 'safe' food for him.
I mentioned this to the show’s organisers, and suggested that perhaps some of us allergy food businesses could club together and do a cook-off next year, to guarantee that there would be one outlet with totally safe food. What do you think? Would you come and visit us?
My brands to watch out for
As my final thought, having sampled a number of new products over the course of the weekend, my ones to watch out for are:
- Cocoa libre – amazing dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, wheat-free chocolate
- Bute island foods – fantastic dairy-free cheeses
- CoYo – yummy dairy-free yoghurts
- Debbie & Andrews – tasty dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free sausages
- Ilumi – dairy-free and gluten-free ready meals
- Isabels Free From – delicious baked goods free from dairy, gluten and wheat
- Violife - they have just launched a new 'parmesan' style cheese
- Jollyum – dairy-free, gluten-free ice cream that tastes as good as the ‘real’ stuff
- Mrs Crimbles– our go to brand for dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, egg-free stuffing
- Newburn Bakehouse – gluten, wheat and dairy-free breads
- Orgran – the best egg alternative on the market
- Pudology – delicious dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, nut-free puddings that taste divine!
- Plamil foods – a fantastic dairy-free chocolate alternative
- Rebel Kitchen – yummy dairy-free milkshakes
- Schӓr – used to be known as DS Gluten Free breads
- Tesco – their free from range is constantly expanding and now offers an impressive selection