Expo showcases gluten, allergy free foods

Date: 10/30/2014

SPRINGFIELD – One indication of the public’s interest in allergy-free and gluten-fee foods locally were the crowds who attended the Gluten & Allergy Free Expo that took place at the MassMutual Center on Oct. 25 and 26.

The aisles in the exhibit hall were filled with people – many families – sampling products from a wide variety of vendors. Each company had a table tent that noted the absence of such ingredients as wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish, the list of the eight food that account for 90 percent of the food allergic reactions established by the Food and Drug Administration.

Sara Miranda, the marketing director for the Gluten Free Media Group, explained to Reminder Publications this was the first time the show had come to Springfield. It tours to seven cities – next on the list was Dallas, TX – and the response here was so great the company would probably come here again.

“It looks like a good market,” she said, noting there had been a strong pre-sale of tickets.

Miranda said surveys the company takes show that about 50 percent of the people who attend the expos have allergies and the other half are people who are seeking these products for “lifestyle reasons.”

According to www.foodallergy.org, there are an estimated 15 million Americans with some food allergies and the number of people is growing without a clear reason, although food allergies affect more people in developed countries.

Miranda said people “with special diets can come to the expo and feel normal.”

Her company has a service that sends samples of gluten free products to people as free as a smartphone app called “Find Me Gluten Free.”

People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The only treatment is to abstain from eating foods with those grains.

The products featured at the show ranged from baking mixes, snack foods, alternatives to ice cream, beer, cider and cooking sauces. Summer camps fro children with food allergies, cookbooks and a dining out club were also among the exhibitors.

The Big Y and Stop & Shop also had large booth areas featuring the allergy and gluten free foods both markets carry.

Julie Christopher, the marketing program manager for King Arthur Flour, said the company started its line of gluten-free baking mixes four to five years ago.

“The demand was so high,” she said.

It took the company two to three years to develop the mixes and Christopher said, “The response has been unbelievable.”

The company has 131 gluten free recipes on its website and Christopher noted, “it’s a growing market and we’re in it for a long haul.”

People were lining up for samples of the company’s gluten-free banana bread.

Beer is made from grains and there were several beer alternatives featured at the expo. Hard Cider, such as Otter Creek, doesn’t contain gluten and the company that makes Mike’s Hard Lemonade promoted the gluten is naturally filtered out of its products.

Bard’s Tale Beer Co. (http://bardsbeer.com) was handing out free samples of its beer, which is brewed without grains from sorghum malt. Brian Kovalchuk, the company’s CEO, had a list ready to answer the question of where can it be bought locally – Table and Vine in West Springfield – and to hand out samples of the crisp beverage.

Several exhibitors were hoping to convince both Big Y and Stop & Shop to carry their products. Michael Brackz of Freedom Food said he was hoping to convince the two market chains to carry his line of gluten and allergy free breakfast cereals.

Rick Stevens of Severance Foods Inc. said his company’s Pan De Oro (www.pandeoro.com) all natural tortilla chips is a products he hopes to get into the two markets as well.  The Hartford, CT,-based company produces seven different kinds of organic gluten-free chips and Stevens said Armata’s in Longmeadow carries them locally.

Several vendors offered alternatives to nuts for snackers with peanut or tree nut allergies. Among them was Superseedz, another Connecticut company that produces gourmet pumpkin seeds (www.superseedz.com).

Even food items that one didn’t think of having an allergy-free component were featured such as Cabot cheddar cheese. The lactose, which affects some people, is eliminated through the adding process of the cheddar cheese.