Coeliac UK issues call out for new ambassadors to shine a spotlight on children and the fortification of gluten free flour

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gluten Free Industry Association, Coeliac uk, Gluten free products, Fortification, Masterchef, pladis, Marks & spencer

Coeliac disease affects about one in 100 people in the UK – of which half a million are still undiagnosed – giving gluten free producers an extensive, and loyal customer base. And it’s growing.

“It’s absolutely true that the ‘movement’ was driven by lifestylers​,” Luan Greenwood, Coeliac UK director of marketing and communications told BakeryandSnacks, referring to the study that debunks the myth that healthy people will benefit from going gluten free.

Does she see this affecting the gluten free trajectory?

“If I were in the food industry, I’d ask if I wanted a customer who eats my products on a cyclical or fad level, or do I want a customer of 60 years?”​ she asked, as there is no cure for the condition; the only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life. Eating gluten damages the lining of the gut, which prevents normal digestion and the absorption of food. Critical health problems can follow, including osteoporosis, cancer of the small bowel in rare cases and increased risk of other autoimmune diseases.

The disease is also a genetic condition. Studies show that, if someone in a family has the condition, there is a one in 10 chance of a close relative developing the disease. This often leads entire families to revert to the gluten free lifestyle rather than just one member within a household.

“Someone with coeliac disease will go back and back to your products. It’s a huge, loyal market … that’s very important.”

Lack of children-friendly flavours

However, she noted much of the innovation currently on the market is made with adults in mind.

“The sort of snacks are made with things like garlic, ginger and chilli – they’d don’t cater for children. There is a huge gap in the market for gluten free products in kid-friendly flavours.”

“When diagnosed, [gluten free sufferers – especially kids] become scare of food quite often, so you want to start them off with something easy and gentle,”​ added 2016 MasterChef Jane Devonshire who has recently been appointed ambassador for the charity. Devonshire is well versed when it comes to all things gluten free, as her now-teenage son, Ben, was diagnosed with coeliac disease when he was two.

As ambassador, she will spearhead the national charity’s 2020 campaign to help find thousands of children living with undiagnosed coeliac disease.

“I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to be an ambassador for Coeliac UK because raising awareness of coeliac disease, especially for children, is a cause close to my heart. I’ve seen first-hand the difference that early diagnosis can make and I want to help the charity reach more parents and carers who might be struggling and searching, sometimes for many years, to find answers to their child’s ill health.

“Genuinely, it can be quite complicated [to find suitable products]; you can’t just go and buy a chocolate cake. But it has become so much easier,”​ she added, noting the increasing availability of treats like pladis’ Hobnobs, which are now available in a gluten free variant.

However, Devonshire highlighted the lack of savoury baked goods and especially on-the-go snacks like ready-to-eat sandwiches.

“Coeliac sufferers tend to rely on sweet goods – like muffins – so, the bakery sector is one that people [in the industry] need to look at. For instance, the rush for the Marks & Spencer gluten free sandwiches has just been incredible.”

Fortification with folate

Another glaring gap in the market is the fortification of gluten free flour, typically done by gluten free producers voluntarily.

A person who avoids gluten-containing grains can also mean missing out on important vitamins and minerals, including folate, found in many whole grains, along with standard flour.

As such, the Coeliac UK has called on the government to consider equivalency for those following a gluten free diet and make fortification mandatory.

Coeliac UK Awareness Week will be hosted from May 11 to 17, 2020.

Coeliac UK’s online assessment​ – the UK’s first online assessment for coeliac disease launched in 2015 – will indicate whether a person’s symptoms are potentially linked to the disease and if they should seek further advice from their GP.

The charity also has two smartphone apps – Gluten Free Food Checker and Gluten Free on the Move – to assist coeliac sufferers in maintaining their diet.

Folic acid fortification helps to reduce the number of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, which occur during the development of the foetus in the first few weeks of pregnancy. There are about 1,000 affected pregnancies per year in the UK.

“Consultations are ongoing regarding the fortification of gluten free flour with folic acid and we are involved,”​ said Greenwood. “There is work going on across the UK with respect to improving the nutritional content of gluten free products.”

Coeliac UK has sent a shout out for ambassadors who can “help us raise the profile of the charity and the awareness of the challenges involved,”​ Greenwood told BakeryandSnacks.

It is also inviting interested parties to participate at the Industry Day​ directed at manufacturers and caterers – to be held in Birmingham, UK, on December 3 December – to network and hear the latest on allergen legislation.

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