The exhibition industry has taken such a battering during the Covid crisis that to see it slowly regain its feet is as much a relief as it is a pleasure.
Lunch!, which takes place annually in September at ExCel, London, is one of my favourite shows for discovering new ‘free from’ products and meeting producers. It’s dedicated to café and food-to-go products: not always the easiest hunting grounds for people with food allergy or coeliac disease.
It was perhaps inevitable that, this year, a number of exhibitors told me regretfully that they’d put new product development on pause for much of the previous 18 months, and therefore while the event was energetic and positive, there perhaps wasn’t quite the volume of NPD we’d previously seen. Nevertheless, several signalled a return to normal service in 2022, so fingers crossed for that. Meanwhile, here’s what I did manage to track down.
We kick off with a 14-free find — that is, free of all top 14 declarable food allergens — in DUG, which are potato-based milk alternatives. Those of you who’ve been in the milk-free game for many years may remember DariFree powder — a potato-based fortified powdered blend to which you’d add water, which was around over a decade ago — but I don’t think there have been any ‘ready made’ potato based blends until now. There are three types — unsweetened, original and barista — and while not widely available yet, you can get a taster three-pack from Amazon UK and individual cartons at vegan supermarket Navesu. Hopefully in supermarkets soon.
I’d tasted and enjoyed Source of the Earth lentil crisps previously at the Speciality Fine Food Fair, some weeks previously, where they officially launched, but was happy to see them again at Lunch! The flavours — sour cream and chive, smoked paprika and chilli and coconut curry — are strong and bold, and come in compostable bags. Vegan, GF and 14-free too: I very much hope these are a success.
Premiering at the show and available from one of the top four supermarkets from January 2022 are Scrambled Oggs(R) from Oggs, who have been established on the vegan market for a while with their cakes, and more recently their aqua faba egg alternative. Scrambled Oggs(R) can be used to make vegan omelettes and quiches, are made with chickpea protein, and are free from declarable allergens. The friendly team at the stand were sworn to part-secrecy and couldn’t tell me much more, including which of the major supermarkets would be stocking the product, and the ingredients may be slightly tweaked before launch, so … we’ll just have to wait until the new year to find out …. But certainly innovative!
It’s always a pleasure to catch up with the Plamil team, and I was happy to see that they had been busy with NPD during the lockdown period — three new oat m!lk chocolate bars have completed development and are ready to go to market in the coming weeks. Final packaging designs weren’t available but the bars are made with Glebe Farm Foods’s gluten-free oat powder — they are Oat Zero (no added sugar, tastes gently oaty with that fresh, light sweetness of xylitol), Oat M!lky, and Oat Caram!ilk (a good alternative to Caramac). Vegan and free from allergens (bar the GF oat, of course) these ought to do well with Plamil fans and other free from folk. Caterers and professionals working with chocolate may also be interested in their newly launched Vegan Chocolat site, where you can order bulk quantities of various Plamil chocolate products in drops.
I’ve become a fan of Origin Kitchen, who I learned about following their 2021 successes at the Free From Food Awards, where they won a number of medals for their various creamed cashew spreads, all of which I’ve since been buying from The Vegan Kind. Loyal OKers will be delighted to learn that they’re launching some indulgent sweet desserts — in white chocolate, ‘serious’ chocolate, mango & passion fruit, and forest fruits — which come in pots so generously sized that even greedy stomachs like mine might struggle to accommodate in one sitting. Delicious. Contain nuts, obviously, but free of pretty much everything else commonly allergy triggering. Hopefully coming to independent stores soon, and The Vegan Kind in the new year, with any luck.
What else? Two new products are coming from The Coconut Collaborative, and should be in supermarkets in the coming weeks. They are Greek Style Almond & Coconut Yogurt, and Chocolate Orange Cups. Sorry, didn’t check ingredients but expect similar free from attributes as the rest of the range apply …. There were new potted granolas and birchers from Oh My Fruity Goodness which are made in a nut-free facility — great for school boxes, perhaps? Also, some interesting savoury snack bars from The Savourists (Classic Smoky Barbecue, Black Olive & Nori Seaweed, Spicy Chilli Sriracha) which were vegan, GF and very unusual — made with ancient grains such as millet, quinoa and amaranth, they contain the allergen soya (in miso) and currently carry a nut warning, but the duo at the stand told me that they were moving to a nut-free facility soon, so should be far allergy friendlier in the new year.
And finally, a shout out to King Monty, which I’d seen before but hadn’t fully appreciated were safely milk free, unlike a lot of vegan chocolate which carries precautionary allergen labelling. Some contain / may contain nuts / soya, but there are several products to explore for the milk avoiders, and their ‘milky’ varieties are made using rice milk alternative.