The Free From Food Awards Ireland - What's it all about ?!

Thankfully for us coeliacs, the market for gluten free products continues to grow with new products and producers coming to the fore regularly.  It's great we have our own Free From Food Awards body in Ireland who do an amazing job in facilitating the selection of the best products on the market. I've been lucky enough to judge for FFFA Ireland in the last couple of years and love working with the team who are so passionate about what they do.   It's a challenging time as is the case for a lot of businesses right now, the team were mid judging season when lockdown happened and the planned awards in May had to be put on hold. I had the chance to catch up with Emma Clarke Conway their Awards Co-ordinator AND lifelong coeliac to find out more...…….


Can you give us a bit of background to FFFA Ireland - when did it get started,  where are you located and what's your purpose ?

The FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland launched in 2015, this being our fifth year anniversary!.  We've had a number of judging locations but in the past two years we’ve been located in Clondalkin Village, which is handy from an operational point of view for the team and for judges travelling from far and wide. Our Awards Ceremony has been held in various locations, we try to do two years in a row in the same venue for consistency and then change for variety ! Our purpose is to recognise, encourage and reward the achievements of producers and the excellence of their products. We want to see the FreeFrom market continue to go from strength to strength, with innovation.

Who are the team,  can you tell us more about them ?

The Awards were founded by businessman John Burke, a lifelong coeliac and a judge in the FreeFrom Food Awards UK. We are a team of food lovers, who have an in-depth and specialist knowledge of the FreeFrom Food marketplace. We have coeliacs, a diabetic, a chef and a nutritionist among our team ! Our ethos is to operate without bias, with the safety of our judges foremost in terms of the foods that are entered. We also want to stand over the products that receive an Award, knowing that any food that receives an FFFA badge is deserving of that win.

How are you and the team doing right now,  is the office still open or are you all working from home?

We are working from home and like everyone we are keeping in touch by phone, email, zoom etc !

Are you the same as the FFFA UK ?  what’s the connection between the 2 organisations ?

The FreeFrom Food Awards UK were founded by Michelle Berriedale-Johnston. John has been a judge with FFFA UK since 2008 and is on their steering committee. When Michelle was looking to bring the Awards further afield, John was delighted to set them up, adjusting them for an Irish setting. We are still very connected with Michelle and many of her judges and team come to judge with us every year.  While our team has also judged in the UK – we call it our ‘judges’ exchange’ programme !

How does the process of the awards work ?

We issue a Call to Entry every year,  producers do pay an entry fee but we have an early bird offer and there is a reduction the more products entered per producer. The assessment period is February and judging takes place in March. We have a panel of over 60 judges, from coeliacs, to parents of coeliacs, to journalists, chefs, food writers, nutritionists, dietitians, bloggers, diabetics, diary free and other FreeFromers. Over two weeks we judge a couple of categories each day, with between 6 and 9 judges daily. It usually ends up being a good mix of people – our main criteria is a genuine interest in the FreeFrom market and some understanding of it. Judges blind taste, score and then debate the results before awarding gold, silver, bronze and merits in each category. We also run a children’s category – run by kids, which is great fun and utterly honest !

How has Covid impacted the awards this year ?

Our second week of judging was impacted by Covid and we hope to hold this at the end of July as the roadmap unfolds. The Award Ceremony is postponed until the 25th September – it was due to run on the 8th May in the lead up to Coeliac Awareness Week, giving winners the opportunity to highlight their awards at a time when there’s lots of interest in gluten-free.

 Any other plans for the FFFA Ireland in the future ?

John is planning a FreeFrom Food Symposium which was due to take place in October, but with covid we’re holding off until we see what sort of normality returns. We are working on this and on a magazine in the background.

Is there anything you’d like people to know about FFFA Ireland they might not already know ?  Any special messages you’d like to send out ?

The people behind FFFA Ireland are all impacted in some way by food intolerances, allergies or coeliac disease. Coming from that place makes this personal, very personal. We want to make life easier for those who have to stick to special diets and that is what we are about.   

If you're a producer and would like to find out more and how to enter head over to FFFA.  If you're interested in keeping up to date in general with what FFFA Ireland are up to and who the award winners are be sure to follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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