Hotel Chocolat’s free from lip service

Free From Heaven magazine has announced a competition to win a Hotel Chocolat ‘No gluten recipe gift box’. They say:

Indulge your sweet tooth this Christmas with a luxurious hamper filled with gluten-free* chocolates.

Follow that asterisk to the footnote and we find:

* Please note this hamper is not safe for coeliacs as the products come with a may-contain warning.

Perfectly reasonable questions from coeliacs followed this announcement. As Adele pointed out, while coeliacs themselves generally have their wits about them and would avoid this hamper, well-meaning but unaware relatives could easily buy this for family members this Christmas. Why promote such a product in a free from context?

Hotel Chocolat’s ‘no gluten recipe’ chocolate hamper

Sharing this competition on Twitter, the magazine used the #glutenfree hashtag. I, and others, objected, because while the magazine clearly is not a ‘coeliac’ brand (as they pointed out), I feel they have a moral duty to honour the now legally protected ‘gluten free’ term for the sake of coeliac readers.

They saw sense, apologised, and deleted the tweet.

But they’ve done us a favour regardless, because this episode has shone a light on Hotel Chocolat’s shameless lip service towards free from.

Let’s look at the evidence. On Hotel Chocolat’s ‘The No Gluten Recipe Gift Box‘ page, they say:

At Hotel Chocolat we believe everyone should be able to include top-quality chocolate at the heart of a healthy lifestyle. This gorgeous selection is the perfect gift for any chocolate lover following a gluten-restricted diet, we have included our favourite wheat free chocolates.

On the product’s ingredients page, this:

we emphasise that all chocolates are made in a factory that handles tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, milk and soya and therefore may contain traces.

Here’s what is wrong with these statements:

1/ Should chocolate be at the ‘heart’ of a healthy lifestyle, or somewhere on the periphery? I think, HC, we need to be looking at things such as exercise, sleep, vegetables, whole grains etc to feature at the core of our well-being, don’t you?

2/ Coeliacs follow a ‘gluten-restricted’ diet, yet this product may contain traces of wheat — anything but a ‘perfect gift’, in my book …

3/ Chocolates which may contain traces of wheat aren’t likely to be ‘wheat free chocolates’, HC. If someone puts this claim to laboratory testing, you could be in trouble.

4/ ‘Everyone’ should be able to enjoy your chocolate, you claim. For clarity, that’s everyone except coeliacs, wheat allergics, tree nut allergics, peanut allergics, milk allergics, soya allergics and some vegans, yes?

Free From Heaven’s promotion of this is a shame, but hardly surprising to me, given their track record. Frankly, given that finding ‘no allergen ingredient’ chocolate with ‘may contain traces’ warnings is roughly on a par with finding hay in a haystack, they may as well run a competition for Cadbury’s.

But our main criticism should be reserved for Hotel Chocolat, who are happy to indulge the faddery of paleo, who pay lip service to the free from community — but when it comes down to it, have precious little to offer its most important members.

Postscript: As of today, 5th December, Free From Heaven Magazine’s offer now reads ‘wheat free chocolates’ rather than ‘gluten free chocolates’ — thereby replacing one inaccuracy with another, and implying they may be safe for those with wheat allergy. 

Postscript II: As of today, 7th December, Free From Heaven Magazine have deleted the page which carried the competition. 

If you want to support genuinely free-from chocolate this Christmas, here are 10 brand suggestions:

Brontie and Co — free from all 14 allergens

Cocoa Libre — free from all allergens except soya (lecithin).

D&D Chocolates – Chocolate and carob confectionary, free of nuts, dairy, gluten.

Essy & Bella — bars and kids’ shapes, free from all 14 allergens.

iQ Chocolate — ‘superfood’ chocolate, free from all 14 allergens.

Kinnerton — nut free chocolate.

Moo Free — of the allergens, contain / may contain hazelnuts only.

Nut Free Chocolate People — chocolate without nuts or nuts traces

Nut Free Chox — artisinal nut free chocolate.

Ombar – of the allergens, contains / may contain tree nuts only.

Plamil / So Free — chocolate products mostly either contain / may contain soya only.


  1. Gavin Ayling

    What a shame. There are too many companies attempting to jump on the bandwagon, but not understanding what beast is on the wagon…

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      Indeed. Or understanding it full well, but unable or unwilling to go the extra mile once they’ve jumped aboard …

  2. Pingback: Alex takes issue with Hotel Chocolat – but suggests some great alternatives

  3. What Allergy

    I hear you Alex, this makes me really cross. Having had so many well meant presents in the past from people who got one allergen right and forgot another (in my case it’s tricky as I have multiple allergies). No one wants to buy a gift that the recipient cannot eat or is perhaps wary of risking. It should not be allowed. Also, please include the lovely people at OmBar ( to your list. Their nut, dairy and I think also gluten free chocolates are delicious.

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      Very frustrating for you. I’m not 100% sure it is allowed, thinking about it. The only gluten claims permitted for a product are gluten free or (in exceptional circumstances) ‘very low gluten’, so I might complain to Trading Standards about this …

    2. Alex G (Post author)

      And thanks for the Ombar tip – I’ll check with them. Can’t believe I forgot them – their coconut variety is delicious.

  4. Emma Hutchinson

    Hotel Chocolat clearly haven’t learnt anything from their previous debacle with supposedly safe Easter chocolate. The Christmas catalogue labels their Christmas pudding as ‘without wheat’ but clearly contains wheat in the online ingredients list! When i questioned them they said;

    “Hi Emma,

    We are incredibly sorry for this. We are aware that there has been an error in our catalogue and we care looking to correct this as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the Christmas Pudding does contain wheat, we are sorry for any inconvenience caused.


    Hotel Chocolat”

    Sadly the subsequent catalogue is exactly the same.

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      That’s staggeringly poor. Can just imagine someone mistakenly ordering that for a wheat intolerant or coeliac family member and serving it up on Christmas Day …

      1. Emma Hutchinson

        Yes, I was very excited by the prospect of a chocolate Christmas pudding and almost ordered it myself. Now I will be making my own and provING that it can be done safely.

  5. Paul S D Degnan

    Yes, I agree with your sentiments. My blog posts often include Chocolate Offerings (from Chocolate Boxes, Bars, Bags, Advent Calendars, Easter Eggs, Seasonal Gifts) and I now exclude Hotel Chocolat from inclusion as they have now introduced this “warning”. Having discussed it with their staff, they feel they can not guarantee this on products as they make most of their lines in one site, therefore whilst I understand this “blanket” approach, it is disappointing that the Free From Heaven magazine seems to have ignored this fundamental concern with it’s prize!?

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      Yeah, the blanket approach is disappointing, but not uncommon, sadly. But what it does is make them a non-free from brand. Nothing wrong with that – unless you try to pass yourself off as otherwise, which is what they’re doing. As far as Free From Heaven goes, little surprises me – i find it a poor magazine. Those involved in its production do not, in my view, seem to have a good understanding of allergy, coeliac or free from issues.

  6. Benjamin Richardson

    After earlier and similar negative experience with the Hotel Chocolat approach to allergen safety and consistent labeling and description I stopped being a customer several years ago. I really wish they would improve both their free from range and communication and labeling because Hotel Chocolat have done more for the promotion and interest in fine chocolate in the UK than any other brand over the last 10-15 years.

    Alex, love your list of genuinely free from Christmas chocolate producers. Several of those feature in a special list I have made of gluten-free & vegan Easter Eggs, with link below if agreeable 🙂

    One day I intend to apply myself to the task of preparing a similar guide covering fine chocolate. All to be taste-tested first of course!

    I a1l also not very surprised by the Free From Heaven blunder. Their Jan/Feb 2018 was a sugar free special edition. One of the first ingredients in many of the “sugar free” recipes was coconut sugar. Sugar is glucose and fructose. Coconut sugar is glucose and fructose. Seems like they thought it was some kind of magic fairy dust instead. Pretty sure they were entirely ignorant of the actual definition of sugar free too (link below)


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