I was delighted to be invited to Foods Matter
towers to act as a judge for the Free From Food Awards 2016
. Any free-fromers will be familiar with the yellow flashes proudly sported by award winners on the supermarket shelves, so it’s a big honour! The awards are the biggest and most important product awards in the free from industry; and are open to products from a wide range of producers from different backgrounds- everyone from big supermarkets to small farmers-market stall-holders were represented. The new ‘small producer/start up’ category sponsored by last year’s winners, Tesco, is a wonderful addition to support small businesses who care deeply about free from.
Delicious thin & crisp crackers by Origin Earth, ‘clean’ ingredients list, decent protein content – an entrant in the ‘Innovation’ category
The judging itself is an epic feat of organisation, with hundreds of products prepared according to manufacturer instructions and served to an eager panel (many with allergies/coeliac themselves) in plain containers so they cannot be identified from the packaging. The debate among the panel can be the most interesting part of the day(s), as judges with diverse interests and experience react to their favourite entries- thus we debated the nutritional merits of a vegan hot water crust pie; the texture and quality of freshly baked bread, the market-appeal of chocolate iced dessert; and whether something ‘naturally free from’ should be prioritised over something more technically challenging to make, but with all manner of strange ingredients. And of course, we discussed the general yumminess (or not!) of everything.
As usual, the products entered included all kinds of ‘free froms’: not just well-represented gluten-free, but products for other allergies/intolerances, and this year what seemed a bigger selection of sugar free products than before – clear evidence for the influence of ‘lifestyle’ free from consumers on product availability.
‘Cheese’ made from cashews from Gozo Deli – something that’s been doing the rounds in vegan circles for a while, but perhaps not executed so deliciously!
In fact, whether because judging the ‘veggie ready meal’ and ‘innovation’ categories or not, I was very conscious of the injection of products that seemed aimed at the ‘clean eating’ brigade. There were a range of plant-based products (which interestingly didn’t always advertise their vegan/dairy free/egg free credentials), lots of ‘unrefined’ sugars (still sugar) as well as a few protein-enhanced items (the latter welcomed personally by me). This is brilliant in some respects- more choice for those of us with allergy or intolerance- but the occasional niggles with labelling on products hinted at the problems this can bring to the allergic consumer- something Foods Matter are working to address.
I’ve highlighted a few of my personal favourite products from my day of judging here, but you’ll have to head over to the awards site to see who has been shortlisted
, and be sure to stay tuned to #FFFA16
on 26th April for the winners- there are already lots of wonderful new products for you to hear about and try!
A novel product from Protein Pow – one I’d been wanting to try for a while!