Dear FreeFrom-ers: yes, you can have some more. From, (a few) supermarkets

Two months ago on the 1st October I wrote this blog post asking you all to tell me which gluten-free, dairy-free and other-free options – especially lunch options – you would like to see the main supermarkets offer in 2013 – a kind of ‘free from wishlist’. If you don’t remember it or haven’t yet read it, it’s worth doing so, just to get your bearings before what follows, and to read some of the imaginative suggestions and thoughtful feedback those following restricted diets took the time to supply.

On the 19th October, I wrote to six major supermarkets – Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – to tell them of the post, and the comments, and offering to send them a brief summary of the suggestions, with an invitation to submit 500 words towards a follow-up blogpost in response to them.

I told them: “We’d be interested to hear of, for instance, any plans for ‘free from’ lunches in the new year, views and thoughts on the suggestions put forward, and whether any might be in development. But any relevant comments and insight are welcome.”

I had planned (and started to write) a detailed explanation of what happened over the subsequent six weeks – the emails, the calls, the reminders, the conversations, the responses, and so on – but changed my mind, not only because I didn’t have a record of every single communication, but also as it would be quite long-winded, and difficult to be fair to all six retailers were I to edit a review of the process into a manageable length. I’m not withholding this information for any other reason, and it may yet come out, either in the comments or in a subsequent post, largely depending on what the response is to this one.

So it’s enough to say this for now: my dealings with all were friendly, most voiced a willingness to take part, and I am genuinely satisfied all had sufficient opportunity to respond to the issues put to them as communications were established with them, indicating that no important emails had been lost or phone messages unheard.

On the 16th November, I sent a polite final mail, explaining that while I was reluctant to set a deadline for participation in something optional for what is essentially a niche and specialist blog with limited reach, I felt I had to in order to make progress. That was set for Friday 30th November, and I told my contacts I’d give them a final gentle prod by phone a week or so before that, if appropriate – but that I would leave them in peace after that. And I did so.

Did they respond? See below. Did they answer the questions posed and tackle the issues raised? You be the judge.

Asda submitted their response on 20th November. They said:
“It is always good to get feedback and we try and talk to customers as often as possible to get their views on how we can improve the range at Asda so thank you for responses.

“Space in store is limited for Free From products so getting the right products for customers is essential. In our own label range we are currently developing new products for next year.

The reason for this is that we are confident that we can develop products that taste great, in fact all the Free From products are tested by customers and have to be approved by them before they are allowed into the range. The other focus for us is around price and making Free From as affordable as possible and driving the price of the product down as much as we can but at the same time working closely with the suppliers to make sure the product is also great quality.

“The new range will include some of the ‘convenience’ options that some of the respondents have mentioned. We also recognise that many people with intolerances are looking for more ingredients based products that can be used to make meals for the whole family. The other thing that our customers have told us they want is to have more products that are free from more than one thing as many have multiple intolerances eg. gluten, wheat and dairy. The other thing we are doing is looking at all the current own label lines that are already in store to see where we can improve the quality and taste.

“The new ranges will be in May 2013 and will also include some new branded products as well as the new own label lines.”

(For Asda’s FreeFrom section online, click here.)

Sainsbury’s submitted their response on 30th November. Gemma Crump, FreeFrom Brand Manager, said:
“We’ve been ploughing through the post and the comments – a great bit of insight into what people look for in terms of pre-made, gluten free lunch options. I hope you can appreciate that we cannot share precisely what it is that we have planned for the future in this category. That said, below are all the products that fit the bill. As you can imagine, we are constantly scoping out opportunities to grow and expand our offers.

“After all, we are keen to reach our goal to be number one retailer for customers with allergies or intolerances by the year 2020 (check out page five of our Best forFood and Health Factsheet, which tells you a bit more about our goals for our freefrom range). We’re well on our way to achieving that goal, with the largest range of freefrom products helping customers with allergies and intolerances already on our shelves!

“Finally, in addition to all the products below, we have a huge amount of products in our other ranges (for example by Sainsburys), that are made without gluten and without milk. These are listed in the product guidance lists to help ease the shopping experience for people with allergies.

“And now, without further ado, the current selection of pre-made, gluten free lunch options (and snacks of course!)

· freefrom Chocolate Brownie
· freefrom cherry and almond slices
· freefrom mince pie

Food Services (branded)
· freefrom branded sandwiches (chicken and egg)

Grocery aisle (lunch time solutions you can buy in our grocery section)
· We offer bread rolls
· Meals in pouches: tomato and basil soup as well as freefrom chicken hotpot

Grocery Snacks
· Freefrom cake slices (brownies, coffee and walnut, lemon, fruit, ginger)
· Blueberry muffins
· Toffee and Nut bars
· Breakfast muesli bars
· Dairy free chocolate bars (orange, crispy, and plain)

Frozen Section (all microwaveable)
· freefrom Beef lasagne
· freefrom Penne arrabiata
· freefrom Pasta and meatballs

“Thank you again for giving us the chance to respond.”

(For Sainsbury’s FreeFrom section online, click here.)

Waitrose submitted their response this morning, 3rd December:
“Waitrose believes you can still have an enjoyable and varied diet if you are avoiding gluten and our nutrition team has been working hard to launch a wider range of gluten free foods than we ever have before, including with a tasty gluten free mince pie for the festive season!

“We’ve also recently launched two new sandwiches, a Gluten Free Chicken Salad and a Gluten Free Ham Salad for an effortless and tasty lunch.

“By incorporating products from our Waitrose LOVE Life Free From range with foods that are naturally free from gluten, we aim to make it easy for our customers to find and create delicious gluten free meals and snacks.

“The range in store currently includes LOVE Life Free From bread options, such as our selection of white and seeded rolls, loaves and petit pains, white and brown Ciabatta . You can try our LOVE Life Free From Porridge Oats to make a warming breakfast, or to toast and use as a topping for homemade fruit crumbles. Other breakfast or snack options include our LOVE Life Free From plain and fruited English muffins, Hot Cross Buns, Scotch Pancakes and Fruit Scones.

“You can make some delicious pasta dishes with our LOVE Life Free From penne and spaghetti. If you fancy making a home-made lasagne, you can use the LOVE Life Free From Lasagne Sheets.

“If you want some gluten free sweet treats, we have a selection in the LOVE Life Free From range to choose from, including Chocolate Muffins, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Belgian Chocolate Brownies. For some traditional favourites we’ve got Cherry Bakewells, Country Cake Slices, Date and Walnut Slices, Fruity Flapjacks, Shortcakes and Oat and Raisin Cookies.

“If you shop or browse online, we have made it easier for you to identify which Waitrose products are suitable for a gluten free diet by providing you with a comprehensive list which you can download from our website.

“We will continue to work on expanding our Free From range to offer a wider choice to our customers and our nutritionist team are always on hand to answer any questions our customers may have. For those interested in learning some new cookery skills as well as picking up some exciting new recipe ideas, we have a Gluten Free cooking course every month at our Cookery School. We also liaise with Coeliac UK to ensure our products that are suitable for those avoiding gluten are listed within the annual Food & Drink Directory.”

(Waitrose’s Food Allergy and Intolerance section is here.)

Morrison’s did not submit a response
(Morrison’s FreeFrom section on their site is here.)

Marks and Spencer did not submit a response
(M&S’s ‘made without wheat’ section is here.)

Tesco did not submit a response
(For Tesco Free From online, click here.)

I’d like to thank all supermarkets for dealing with me.

Thanks particularly to Asda and Sainsbury’s who responded to my initial approach very quickly and positively.

No other comments from me just yet, but I very much look forward to yours.

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