Food Allergy Awareness Week – Interview with Kirsty Henshaw
May 14, 2021
Author: Emma Hodgson, Marketing Executive
During another busy week of trials here at DC Norris, we had a quick interview (social distanced of course) with Kirsty Henshaw, founder of Kirsty’s to get her view on the changes in the food industry.
Kirsty creates and manufactures a range of healthy chilled ready meals that could be enjoyed by everyone, including people with food allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease.
Emma @ DCN:
Hi Kirsty, thank you so much for meeting with me today. My first question to you is…
- What made you start producing allergen free products?
My son has an array of food allergies, he is fifteen years old now but he was diagnosed when he was a baby. I’ve avoided allergens ever since to make it safe. I also don’t enjoy drinking milk, so I don’t drink it!
Emma @ DCN:
- How do you feel most people perceive food allergies?
People perceive them in different ways; I think it used to be a lot weirder and a bit wacky, and a little bit functional. Now it is more trendy with people avoiding gluten, but ultimately for those with food allergies it’s a way of life and it should be the norm. We are trying to make it easier for them and give them more choice.
Emma @ DCN:
- Your meals are allergen-free, nutritional, low in calorie and tasty, what’s your secret?
We just use ingredients that you would find at home in your cupboard, fresh ingredients with no added nasties. For example, we use sweet potato instead of white potato, brown rice instead of white rice, as well as fresh herbs.
- Do your products also appeal to those without specific food allergen issues
Yes absolutely! We position ourselves in the health section in the supermarket, and our meals are naturally low in calories. People pick them up for all different reasons, it’s not only those who are allergic to something, have intolerances, or are vegan. Our range is often being bought purely by people who are watching their health.
- Do you feel there is less risk now to those suffering with food allergies when eating out / convenience foods?
Yes, there are lots of allergen-free menus in restaurants now and companies like us are making products to be sold into restaurants as an allergen- free alternative. There is often a risk of cross-contamination so you have to be mindful of that, but generally restaurateurs and staff are extremely careful now as they understand the serious implications and risk to their customers.
How do you rule our cross-contamination?
We rule out cross contamination by ensuring that every ingredient that comes into the factory is from an allergen safe environment, we do our due diligence across every single supplier. However, in restaurants and places like that, it is very hard to rule out cross-contamination because of ovens, staff control, chopping boards, correct cleaning of cutlery etc. I think people with very severe allergies tend to think carefully about where they eat out.
- Do you think there needs to be more understanding of food allergens over intolerances?
Food allergies are much more severe than intolerances, many people think they are allergic when really they just have an intolerance to something and it won’t actually do them much harm. Anaphylaxis and severe allergies should be more widely talked about, and should not be seen as weird or strange, a bit more knowledge around it would be helpful, definitely.
- Have you seen the allergen-free industry change since you began?
100%, we were one of the first people making a brand out of free-from, and now there are a lot! There are more vegan brands being launched which are ticking the dairy-free box, but completely allergen-free brands are still quite rare. There are some own label alternatives which is great as it gives the consumer a choice at a lower price.
- Are there any challenges you face when making / developing allergen-free meals?
Yes, we would love to be able to produce allergen-free fish pie, but of course fish is an allergen as is cream. I am also aiming to make the best Macaroni and Cheese on the market, which basically has everything you can think of that is an allergen – pasta, cheese and cream. We are working on this and are nearly there, it is difficult, but you can manage it if you persevere!
Thank you so much Kirsty for taking the time to speak with me today – we can’t wait to try the Macaroni Cheese when it is available!
You can find Kirsty’s Ready Meals in the Health Aisle in most major supermarkets.