Free-from food’s never been the sexiest of categories. But, according to Christian Konig, allergen-free needn’t mean flavour-free. The Hale & Hearty brand owner meets Sue Scott

Christian Konig scoffs at the notion that multiples are the nemesis of small suppliers.

He's happily committed 70% of his volume sales to the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda in the 18 months that Hale & Hearty has been in business and sees them as critical to his free-from food company's future.

"To have a successful business, you need them," he says.

That might put him at odds with many independent-orientated food producers. But so convinced is he of the strength of the Hale & Hearty brand that he's confident it will eventually change the multiples' entire merchandising strategy and break out of the free-from ghetto to which most of its dried food products have been consigned.

Konig says that in corporate terms he's the cheetah agile and fast. "There is no time to react, to sit still. The business moves so quickly," he says.

Right now it's rushing into the unknown. With first full-year sales heading towards £1m, and the company being honoured with seven Gold Great Taste Awards at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair this weekend, Hale & Hearty plans to expand the range by up to a third within four months and hasn't ruled out a foray into the chilled and frozen aisles.

"As we grow and expand we will be achieving listings in multiple categories within supermarkets," he predicts. "People with intolerances and allergies shop in multiple categories, too."

It was the same unswerving self-belief that led Konig (a coeliac and former PR man) and his wife Catarina (a nutritionist) to launch Hale & Hearty in response to their daughter Ilaria's wheat intolerance at the height of a recession.

"I knew we had something," he says. "People with food intolerances have been treated like second-class citizens, but everybody has the right to eat good food. We saw our main brand attribute as a great-tasting product."

From the family kitchen in London's Ladbroke Grove, they set about developing a gourmet range at breakneck speed everything from barbecue cassava crisps to quinoa chocolate cereal and even gluten-free breadcrumbs, wrapping them all up in tasty-looking packaging that belies their allergic origins.

"It looks normal," says Konig. "There are other brands that focus too much on the allergy side because historically that's how they developed. We have a different attitude."

Hundreds of products were developed through trial and error before a core range of 20 was agreed on, and there's more NPD in the pipeline. "I get very excited by NPD as does Cat because with food you can develop things very quickly," says Konig.

Already exporting to seven countries, Hale & Hearty also has ambitions to make its global footprint bigger while bringing manufacturing back to the UK (current contracts are in the UK, Europe and Indonesia). There are no licensed products yet "but we are thinking about it", says Konig.

The secret to a healthy free-from food business, it seems, is not the ingredients you take out; it's the effort you put in.