Research from Allergy UK today highlights how food allergies and the cost of living may prevent nearly 2 million households from enjoying traditional festive food favourites this year. This means a potential 4.8 million Brits will be settling down to their Christmas dinner without the likes of mince pies, pigs in blankets, stuffing, and Christmas pudding. The research was conducted to raise awareness of the impact that the rising incidence of food allergies and the cost of free-from foods is having on many families in the UK.
Ingredients and prices of festive favourites such as mince pies, pigs in blankets, Baileys, Quality Street, stuffing, gravy, and Christmas Pudding were analysed. All the items contained either egg, soy, dairy, wheat, or nuts rendering them off limits for the 2 million living with food allergies in the UK. Homes with someone with a food allergy usually avoid having any foods with the allergen even in the house, so this means that up to 4.8 million people could be passing on the pigs in blankets and Quality Street this Christmas.
Despite the growth in free-from alternatives to enable people with food allergies to enjoy these foods, the higher price point makes it prohibitive for many families to do so, especially against a backdrop of the rising cost of living. Investigations by Allergy UK reveals an ‘allergy penalty’ paid by those who need to enjoy free-from foods this Christmas. For example, a free-from mince pie (four pack) costs £1.75 or 43p a pie compared to £1.09 or 18p for a standard six pack of mince pies, representing a 138% price increase per pie. When calculated across all nine items featured in the Christmas treat selection, this is equivalent to an average uplift of 157%.
A poll of those living with food allergies indicates that 44% of adults with food allergies always need to spend a lot of time reading food labels when shopping for food. This is because current legislation on food labelling means that manufacturers can list the potential inclusion of an allergen on its label, even if the ingredient has not been used in the manufacture of the food. As well as making a shopping trip more time consuming, the ‘may contain’ labelling practice significantly limits the selection of foods available for those living with certain food allergies.
Carla Jones, CEO of Allergy UK, explains, “It is a sad reality for many households with food allergies, that there simply is a financial – and a convenience – penalty which must be paid, simply to be able to access foods which are safe to eat. This year it will be felt even more keenly with the cost-of-living crisis. For these families and individuals, there is not a lower price point alternative for free-from foods, and current labelling practices significantly reduce the choices available to these people even more. It is a case of pay up or miss out on the favourite festive treats this year. Therefore, we are calling for labelling practices to be revised, especially with the cost-of-living crisis making free-from foods increasingly prohibitive.”
Statistics indicate that the prevalence of food allergies in the UK is on the rise, and recent research from a public survey by Allergy UK estimates that 8% of people in the UK are living with a food allergy. Food abounds at Christmas, and for those living with a food allergy, the festive season brings heightened anxiety and exclusion. A survey conducted by Allergy UK in 2021 reveals that:
- 61% of children with food allergies have avoided social situations because of their allergy.
- 53% of children with food allergies feel isolated due to how much their allergies affect their life.
- 41% of parents would be anxious about their child with food allergies having an allergic reaction at a social event.
Jones continues, “With our most recent research indicating that there are up to 41 million people in the UK who are living with allergic disease, it is the case that an allergy-free life is now the exception, not the rule.
This year Allergy UK launched a new campaign, ‘It’s Time to Take Allergy Seriously’ to bring to life its mission for no one to die from allergy. The campaign’s themes confront the realities of living with allergic conditions and calls for improved healthcare provision, better awareness in service industries and improved care standards in education environments for adults and children whose lives have been impacted by allergy.