Coeliac and GlutenFree Tweetup, 22nd August 2011 – a summary of points

A hat-trick of coeliac and glutenfree tweetups now after the previous two and I think we’re getting into the swing of it now – although I do feel we perhaps had too many strands of conversation going on, too soon, and things got a little confused (this wasn’t helped by my losing connectivity for twenty minutes). More about this later.

We kicked off with a talk about ‘free from’ food prices, inspired by a comment Si Cornwell made prior to the tweetup. His point was that increased demand for gluten-free food teamed with more competition among manufacturers would drive high prices of ‘free from’ down. A fine theory: but is this really happening in the market in practice?

* Babir thought it wasn’t, and that we should take up the issue with our MPs
* Si responded that MPs don’t drive the retail market and were unlikely to offer subsidies outside the prescription system we have.
* Annie of Supperclub agreed it wasn’t happening either – and suggested that the new GF labelling rules in 2012 will deter people from entering the market – she suggested e-petition, lobbying…
* Babir thought the market would continue to grow as ‘free from’ manufacturers feel there’s still money to be made to continue ‘fleecing’ the coeliac community!
* Dale concurred, adding that ‘free from’ is a great cash cow – just like diet foods… People can still make money from the ‘free from’ community.
* GFGuerrillas thought retailers ‘have us coeliacs over a barrel’…
* Annie thought it was mainly the cost of maintaining specialist facilities keeping prices high.
* Caleigh (GlutenFreek) thought cost of raw materials may be higher than for non-GF and agreed with Annie about specialist facilities.
* MalSannie added that testing is expensive too.
* Liz, The CakeCrusader agreed with this.
* Si maintained that basic economics would win eventually – supply and demand – and with all the major supermarkets now entering the market is sure to drive prices down.

This kick-off conversation did set in motion other threads of chat, some of which I’ll include here:

* Antony thought that promoting GF food’s health benefits would drive the market up and the prices down…
* I asked whether there were any…
* Antony and Si both thought there was a widespread popular perception of health benefits to glutenfree, thanks to a few ‘stars’ / that people feel more ‘energetic’ going GF

* Holly (CoeliacSniffs) mentioned her struggles as a student funding the GF diet
* Saara, our CoeliacStudent, pointed out that a bag of GF pasta is ‘too expensive and far too small’
* GlutenFreek said packs may be half size and twice the price – if GF food parcels were as large as gluten-containing products she wouldn’t begrudge the cost so much.

* Lucy (Luluartist) pointed out that labelling was poorer in the US, but restaurants were excellent, and added that wheat is used to bulk food in the UK (which keeps gluten-containing food cheap?), whereas glutenfree corn is used in the US. She thought it was an unneecessary addition to so much food here.
* Si spoke of Canada’s top glutenfree awareness.

* Holly thought there was potential to get a VAT band reduction, like the 5% used on some medical items, and offered to explore this. There were lots of calls of support – and Annie offered to lend a hand. Holly promised to report back.

* GFguerrillas asked whether anyone asked for more selection at supermarkets directly?
* Louise (Musntgrumble) said she does – by logging requests, then by email and following up with a manager – but never gets any joy!
* Dale has too – but is unhappy with Asda/Tesco’s choice. Sainsbury’s much better, he feels.
* Annie said has been asking her Sainsbury’s branch to move GF bread away from fresh bread for four years – no joy there either.
* Si would like to see ‘free from’ in every aisle – not isolated in one spot
* Fria supported the call to ask for Fria in supermarkets – they’re working on boosting their distribution.

We returned to health later and there was a discussion that I think we probably ought to come back to, concerning the types of goods for those on a gluten free diet. Lots of chat regarding more calorific free from food – higher in sugar and fat. And calls for a campaign for healthier free from! Lots of support here for this, and I hope our honourable cake-producing members weren’t made to feel uncomfortable…

* CoeliacAntics made the point that they would like to see more savoury GF goods – “we don’t all have sweet teeth”.
* This was echoed by a few participants: that there’s too much interest in cakes/ muffins etc
* TheCakeCrusader pointed out that store-bought packaged goods filled with additives, and that specialist GF bakers use natural ingredients, and that their products should be enjoyed as a treat.
* MrsChicks later added that cake definitely has its place for people who’ve had to avoid it for so long.

Other business:

* Dale made an amusing point: why do crabsticks have wheat but no crab!?
* CoeliacStudent thought there should be more choice in GF veggie ready meals – and Jo D-M (SakuraBlythe) agreed.
* There were some calls for GF to mean 0ppm from MalSannie, John (GFLifeIreland) and Annie – and I think this is something we must come back to (I will on the blog too)
* Why is gluten added to Sainsbury’s ketchup, asked VJ!?
* There was a lot of loving for Leon Restaurants – I will get in touch with their press officer and try to find out more for next time.
* There was a good conversation about GF beer – that increasing availability should not be difficult in pubs – so why was it? Mr EdTheHorse said he drank Foster’s with no ill effects, but the group was quick to point out that damage can be silent and this wasn’t a risk worth taking.

Finally, Caroline’s news…

* A Free From Food Festival will take place on Southbank towards the end of November. She called for feedback, views, thoughts, ideas… Follow on Twitter here.

Now, there were a few remarks concerning how difficult it was at times to follow the various threads of conversation. I think it was Sian who said it was like a ‘noisy pub’. I agree, and I have found it very difficult to do this write up – although partly that was because I lost connectivity for the central part of the event.

Obviously, by the chats’ nature, we are going to go off on tangents, but did we do so too early? Were there too many strands? Should we more strictly stick to one specific question for at least the first part of the chat, and then let the ‘noisy pubness’ arise organically towards the end of the evening, as it inevitably will? Do comment below.

Apologies if I’ve missed an important point, misquoted, misspelled, gramatically blooped, missed a link, or missed a tweet directed at me – there were just too many, so email me though my website if you want my attention, or comment here if it concerns the points raised. Thanks if you took part; join us next time if you didn’t (early-mid October?).