freefrom aisle

A leading food allergies safety campaigner has urged supermarkets to use shocking new figures over the impact of misleading labelling as motivation for a major overhaul of free-from food aisles.

Julianne Ponan, founder of the Creative Nature brand, welcomed the campaign launched this week by the Food Standards Agency, which warned shoppers of the risk of foods labelled as vegan.

The agency released research showing 62% of people who are allergic to animal-based products, or who buy for someone who is, feel confident that products labelled ‘vegan’ are safe to eat, which is putting millions at risk.

The FSA’s campaign is also being supported by the three biggest UK allergen charities – Allergy UK, Anaphylaxis UK and the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation.

Julianne Ponan, founder of Creative Nature

Julianne Ponan, founder of Creative Nature

Ponan, who has campaigned for more than a decade for improved information on allergens and herself nearly died as the result of unclear labelling, claimed too many manufacturers used “vegan” and “plant-based” to market their products, but added “may contain” warnings in the packaging’s small print to avoid liability.

She told The Grocer: “I warmly welcome this campaign by The FSA and hope that after many years of campaigning this can be a turning point.

“Whilst it’s important that people with allergies have more understanding of the threat, they potentially face this should be a wake-up call for supermarkets.

“In the ‘free-from’ aisles of supermarkets, you’ll encounter a variety of products catering to different dietary needs, including vegan options with ‘may contain’ warnings, products free from one or two major allergens, and those completely free from all 14 major allergens.

“However, this diversity can pose challenges for individuals with multiple food allergies, as the section intended to simplify shopping can instead lead to confusion and disappointment.

“Despite being labelled as dedicated sections, many products within these aisles are unsuitable for those with multiple allergies, requiring constant label checking and resulting in frustration when encountering allergens or potential allergens.”

As well as campaigning for organisations such as The Vegan Society to have clearer labelling, Ponan is urging supermarkets to create dedicated sections within free-from aisles to cater for different allergies.

“Retailers such as Asda have taken steps to address this issue by segregating vegan products into a separate section distinct from the ‘free-from’ aisle,” she said.

Ocado has pioneered the introduction of a dedicated top 14 allergen-free section, providing customers with a reliable means of shopping safely. Additionally, they have subdivided categories such as dairy-free, facilitating easier product selection for consumers.

“I would like to see much wider change across all the supermarkets.

“Sadly, too many people have already died because of this issue and retailers have a responsibility to take action to stop it happening again.”

The FSA research found almost a third of people who react to or buy for those who react to products of animal origin weren’t aware they should check for a precautionary allergen label on vegan products.