Sainsbury's please do more to support your loyal allergy customers

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Living with food allergies is extremely difficult. As a mum with a young child who has severe allergies to peanuts, treenuts, milk and egg, I know first hand how much of an impact living with food allergies has on your day to day life. I know first hand the challenges my daughter faces - I have lost count of the times she has missed out or been excluded because food has not been safe. In nursery, in school, at birthday parties or other functions. Eating out is a mine field. As is booking holidays. Nothing is simple. 

So you can imagine how wonderful it is to find safe foods that are not only healthy and nutritious but also tasty. My daughter is 7. Like ever other 7 year old she loves cream, sweeties, chocolates and desserts. She likes cereals just like the ones that her friends eat. She doesn't like to stand out. We work hard at providing her with a balanced diet, but it can be extremely difficult at times. Reading every label in every shop is not only time consuming, but it is also so disheartening - checking a packet while an excited 7 year old watches you, only to tell them that, no, this isn't safe, is heartbreaking. It’s not just about having a treat, it’s about inclusion, feeling normal…not sticking out. We all know what that feels like don’t we?

In the UK, it is estimated that 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy. This equates to around 2 million people living in the UK with a food allergy and this figure does not include those with food intolerances. This means the actual number of affected people living with a food allergy and/or food intolerance is considerably more. We know that food allergies are on the rise and that more people than ever before are affected by them. 

So, why then is is becoming increasingly difficult to shop for safe foods? Why is it that so many foods that we previously ate safely are no longer considered to be safe for us? Why is it that retailers are not taking food allergy customers into consideration when making decisions in relation to where they produce products. Why is it that more and more we are seeing the statement "may contain nuts" appear on products which DO NOT contain nuts? Products that were once safe, but are no longer, because retailers are not taking the time to think about the implication of their decisions on a group of customers who are affected by allergies, specifically to peanuts and treenuts. 

Sainsbury's is one of the UK's largest food retailers and for many years has been seen by allergy communities as being "allergy friendly" - it was viewed as a supermarket that you could trust to label well (using the term "may contain" when there is a genuine risk) and also as a supermarket where there were lots of options for peanut and treenuts allergy sufferers, as well as many other allergy sufferers. Their Free From section was excellent, providing a selection of products that were safe for people with multiple allergies. We have always relied on the free from chocolate range.

However, over the past few months, customers have started to find that products that have been safe for many years are no longer safe - breakfast cereals, desserts, breads and the free from chocolate range, are no longer safe because they now carry a "may contain nuts warning". 

As far as I am aware, Sainsbury's have changed the labelling on so many products because they now have new suppliers and the products are now being produced in factories where there is a risk of cross contamination. While we are grateful that Sainsbury's are labelling for this risk, we are extremely disappointed that Sainsbury's have taken the decision to make these changes without taking into consideration the large group of loyal allergy customers who not only enjoy their products, but rely on them to provide their families with a balanced diet. 

My little girl is devastated that so many of the products that she was once able to eat safely are no longer an option for her. And I know that we are not alone. 

To make matters worse, Sainsbury's are no longer responding to correspondence in relation to this issue. They are ignoring their loyal customers. At a time when we need clarity about what is happening and also additional information about the new allergy advice, as a group we are being ignored. We are not even clear which nuts are presenting a risk in the new production sites. 

I am calling on Sainsbury's to reconsider the changes that they have recently made. I do not underestimate the time and cost involved in changing suppliers. However, as a parent to a young child with severe, life threatening, allergies, I am asking that you consider the impact that this change has had on a large number of your loyal customers.