While not food producers ourselves, it’s always good to keep up to date with the latest news in the industry of food production when you work with producers and caterers everyday. So this week we popped along to the University of Ulster “Routes to Market for Food and Drink” conference to discover more about the processes involved and meet some of the people working on new food projects.
The speaker line up included retailers, food production advisers and some of the local (NI) producers who have successfully entered the market. While there wasn’t a specific gluten free speaker or section on allergen containing foods, it was the Marks & Spencer Food Technologist who highlighted that their figures show 1 in 10 people look for gluten free food in their supermarket. This is ten times the number of people known to be diagnosed with Coeliac disease in Europe (1 in 100) and therefore possibly a glimpse into the real figures for undiagnosed and lifestyle choice gluten free buyers.
A number of other speakers touched on the subject of gluten free including Morelli ice cream and Rich Sauces. Morelli ice cream is well known and includes a selection of gluten free flavours in their range. Rich Sauces is better known in the catering industry (it’s a trade only product) but a selection of their sauces are also gluten free.
The hashtag for the event was #routestomarket so if you search on Twitter you can see some of the tweets from the day and who else was attending.
For me, the biggest take away from the day was length of process required to get a product onto the shelves. I’ve often thought of great foodie ideas for the gluten free market and even made a couple at home as trials but never progressed it any further.
Marketing, packaging, shipping and mass production methods aside (let’s call those the obvious steps), the big message for me was the testing involved and sheer volume of new products being presented to the retailers.
As an example, retailers have roll out periods when the release new products onto the shelves. This reduces consumer confusion in being presented with a raft of new items and losing others. With every shelf allocated a space, products have a life span and therefore a new product must replace another one so having a new product isn’t enough, it must be specifically better than the product on the shelf space it’s going to be allocated.
Before we even reach that stage, the testing process begins, ensuring it’s safe, produced correctly and labelled appropriately. This period takes over two months and must be replicable in every detail, every time a new batch is produced to ensure consistency for the consumer.
Ultimately it’s a fascinating process and if you have the drive (and the money) a very exciting opportunity. There are loads of new potential products just waiting to be made but matching those ideas with manufacturing processes, laboratory testing, retail entry and consumer testing is definitely not a weekend project. One particularly exciting example however, was the local brewery, Lacada. They funded their brewery building and production through crowd funding. They don’t have a gluten free beer (yet) but their process was one of working as a community of investors (and business developers) to launch the business and bring their products to the marketplace. Having skirted around the edges of crowd funding marketing and occasionally investing in one or two projects myself, I know it involves a lot of work, it’s not easy free money, but it’s certainly easier (and more fun) than dealing with banks.
Have a look at their website and see for yourself what they have achieved but it’s a great example of finding another way to achieve your goal of creating a new food when the traditional routes weren’t suitable.
Food testing facilities and research from the University of Ulster are available here: Ulster University Business Services
Have you thought about producing your own gluten free food or think you could improve on an existing product?
Let us know in the comments below.