My children have multiple allergies including milk, egg, nuts and sesame. So you would think that the free from food aisle would be our best friend. What could be better than shelves stocked with items my little ones can eat? Well, nothing. Except it rarely works like that. Now don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to see the rise in free from food. I am very happy my children are growing up in a time when allergies are well recognised. And I have been impressed by the time and effort many supermarkets are putting into their ranges. But my frustration has been brewing for quite a while now and I feel I need to be honest. Here are my problems with the free from aisle:
A glut of gluten free
I understand that supermarkets are commercial and are led by customer trends. However, the current focus on gluten free foods is very frustrating. The shelves are awash with them while dairy and egg free finds are still few. It feels like we are not being catered for and that coeliacs aside, the free from aisles are becoming a place for people who choose a special diet, rather than are forced to eat one.
As an allergy parent, I am an avid label reader. I have to be. But I would really rather not have to spend so much time perusing ingredients. Many supermarkets flag up allergens clearly on the front of products in the free from aisle. However, this is inconsistent, especially for some reason with egg. Products can often be egg free but not labelled as so. On the other side, many freefrom products are also still ‘may contain’ nut or sesame so I have to check for these as well.
My children cannot eat the majority of food in the free from aisles and to find the ones they can, I have to sift through every shelf as they are not well organised. I understand that many products are free from a number of things, but a simple ‘vegan’ or ‘dairy free’ section would make this so much easier.
You would think, by taking ingredients away, things would cost less! Yes, I know it’s not as simple as that but it does seem like supermarkets are profiting heavily off people’s special dietary needs. Often, for gluten free goods, there is a lot of extra expense for a certified facility and smaller suppliers are not able to provide such competitive prices. However, a ‘freefrom’ pasta sauce that is fairly identical to one in the ‘normal’ aisle suddenly gets a big price increase when it is relabelled.
There are a lot of amazing free from brands out there and I am happy to see some of them stocked regularly in lots of supermarkets. However, there are many that just never make it to the shelves, which are dominated with big names, who aren’t necessarily the best quality or value. Also, many of the brands produce the supermarkets’ own ranges, so the cross-section is even more limited than it can appear.
So there you have it. I will visit the free from aisles for specific products but often I source things elsewhere or even better, find regular products that are safe and suitable. What are your experiences of shopping in the free from aisle? I’d love to hear your thoughts.