Junk food could be responsible for the food allergy epidemic

Experts at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) are today presenting research that shows higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), found in abundance in junk food, are associated with food allergy in children.

Researchers from the University of Naples ‘Federico II’ observed three groups of children aged between 6-12 years old: those with food allergies, those with respiratory allergies, and healthy controls. They found a significant correlation between subcutaneous levels of AGEs and junk food consumption, and further, that children with food allergies had higher levels of AGEs than those children with respiratory allergies or no allergies at all. The research team also found compelling evidence relating to the mechanism of action elicited by AGEs in determining food allergy.

AGEs are proteins or lipids that become glycated after exposure to sugars and are present at high levels in junk foods – deriving from sugars, processed foods, microwaved foods and roasted or barbequed meats. AGEs are known to play a role in the development of diabetes, atherosclerosis and neurological disorders but this is the first time an association has been found between AGEs and food allergy.

There is growing evidence that food allergy prevalence is increasing, especially amongst young children, and incidence is known to be as high as 10% in some countries. Similarly, there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of highly-processed foods, comprising up to 50 per cent of total daily energy intake in European countries.

“Existing models of food allergy do not explain the dramatic increase observed in recent years – so dietary AGEs may be the missing link. We need further research to confirm this, strengthening the case for governments to enhance public health interventions to restrict junk food consumption in children,” said principal investigator Roberto Berni Canani.

Isabel Proaño of the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations added:

“Healthcare professionals and patients do not have access to all the necessary knowledge to face a disease that dramatically impacts their quality of life, and industrialised food processing and labelling gaps do not help. We call on the public health authorities to enable better prevention and care of food allergy.”

New partnership to develop treatment for peanut allergies

Prota Therapeutics, the developer of oral immunotherapies to treat food allergies, has partnered with Chr. Hansen. The partnership will assess the world’s best documented probiotic strain, LGG, in a Phase III clinical trial to develop a treatment for peanut allergy.

Approximately 220-250 million people globally suffer from food allergies, an increase of 350 per cent over the past 20 years. The economic impact for treatment of food allergies in the US has been estimated at US$24.8 billion per year[1].

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, and one of the most common causes of death from food allergy2. More than 3 million Americans suffer from peanut allergy3 resulting in a global peanut allergy therapeutics market estimated to reach more than US$10 billion by 20252.

Prota Therapeutics is pioneering a new form of oral immunotherapy treatment. It combines Chr. Hansen’s specifically formulated LGG®4 probiotic strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, with targeted doses of proprietary formulations of peanut protein. The treatment is designed to reprogram the immune system’s response to peanuts and eventually develop tolerance.

One of the first Phase III clinical trials with a live microorganism

Building upon earlier trials conducted at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Prota Therapeutics is progressing towards a large-scale Phase III clinical trial, under a US Investigational New Drug Application (IND). The aim is to commercialize a medicinal product using a new pharmaceutical grade therapeutic dosage form for treating peanut allergy, and to explore indications for treating other food allergies.

“An effective therapy to treat peanut allergies is now a realistic target. Chr. Hansen is the ideal partner for us in this next step, both as the owner of one of the key components in the therapeutic product – LGG® – and as a leading expert in microbial solutions. Chr. Hansen has demonstrated the capability to deliver a pharmaceutical quality product that can be regulated as a biological therapeutic product.  Together with our proprietary peanut protein formulation, we aim to progress this through to commercialization of a treatment for peanut allergies,” says Dr. Suzanne Lipe, CEO at Prota Therapeutics.

Unlocking the potential of good bacteria

Numerous studies have highlighted the therapeutic potential of specific bacteria in preventing and treating metabolic, gastrointestinal and other diseases. Investigating specific bacteria for the treatment of food allergies is an area that has recently gained momentum.

Having produced LGG® for more than 10 years before fully acquiring LGG® from Valio in 2016, this new partnership is an example of how Chr. Hansen’s focus on industry leading product quality and clinical documentation can expand the potential of the LGG® probiotic strain into a new breakthrough area.

Christian Barker, Executive Vice President, Health & Nutrition at Chr. Hansen says:

“Chr. Hansen has the ability to maximize the value of a probiotic strain through our deep experience in microbial process development and formulation, our focus on quality, and our global reach. The partnership with Prota Therapeutics is part of our strategy to become the partner of choice for companies wanting to develop new generations of therapeutic microbes.”

According to the company, Lactobacillus rhamnosus is the best documented probiotic strain in the world. It has been used in food, dietary supplements and infant nutrition since 1990 and has shown beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal and immune system. It is supported by more than 300 clinical studies and 1,200 scientific publications.


[1] Gupta R et. al., JAMA Pediatrics 2013; 167(11):1026-103

2 DelveInsight, “Peanut Allergy – Competitive Landscape, Market Insights, Epidemiology and Market Forecast-2025”

3 Sicherer et. al., J Allergy Clin Immunol 2010;125:1322-6

4 LGG® is a trademark of Chr. Hansen

Breakthrough in treatment for peanut allergy

Researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have found evidence that a cure may be possible for peanut allergy.

A treatment the researchers are trialing has shown long-lasting effects, more than four years after the original study; and provided hopes for sufferers of the allergy.

At the end of the original trial in 2013, 82 per cent of children who received the probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy (PPOIT) were deemed tolerant to peanuts and went home eating peanut. Four years later, 80 per cent of children who gained initial tolerance are still eating peanut as part of their normal diet and have passed a further challenge test confirming long-term tolerance to peanut (70 per cent)

Publication of four year follow up data from a study of a novel oral immunotherapy to treat peanut allergy – The Lancet, Child and Adolescent Health

Research led by Professor Mimi Tang, who pioneered the probiotic and peanut immunotherapy (PPOIT) treatment, followed up children four years after they completed the initial trial. Children in the original PPOIT randomised trial were given either a combination of the probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts, or a placebo, once daily for 18 months, then tested to see if they had developed tolerance to peanut.

Prof Tang said the new study showed that the majority of PPOIT-treated children who tolerated peanut at the end of the original trial were still eating peanut without reactions four years later.

“The probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy treatment, or PPOIT, was associated with long-lasting ability to tolerate peanut four years after stopping the treatment,” Prof Tang said.

“Of the PPOIT-treated participants who achieved short term tolerance at the end of the original trial, 80 per cent were still eating peanut and 70 per cent had long-lasting challenge-proven tolerance four years after stopping treatment.”


New food allergy resource website for young people

Teens and young people living with severe food allergies are being encouraged to start a conversation with their peers via a new website that could potentially save their lives.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie said the new Coalition Government funded website, www.250k.org.au, was developed under the National Allergy Strategy.

“Around 250,000 young Australians live with severe – and potentially life threatening – allergies,” Minister Gillespie said.

“Managing severe food allergies can be a significant challenge for teens and young adults, particularly in social situations, or when starting new relationships.

“If others are aware of their allergy and what to do, it can potentially save their lives in the event of a severe allergic reaction.”

Minister Gillespie said research had found many young people feel too embarrassed to talk about their allergy with their peers.

“The website operates just like an app, and allows young people to develop their own avatar and use it to talk to their friends or others with severe allergies about their experiences,” Minister Gillespie said.

“It’s a step removed from having a face-to-face conversation that may make them uncomfortable, and the avatars can even be used to show how an EpiPen works, without the person having to demonstrate it themselves.

“There’s also practical information for young people on how they can manage their severe allergy.”

Minister Gillespie also announced that the Coalition Government would provide $1.1 million next financial year for the National Allergy Strategy, to help progress the implementation of allergy prevention strategies.

“This new funding demonstrates our commitment to people living with allergies and the challenges they face,” Minister Gillespie said.

He said the Coalition Government also provided support for management and treatment of allergies.

“There are specific Medicare Benefits Schedule items for subsidised chronic disease management consultations and allied health services, while in 2015-16 we spent $37.2 million under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule on subsidised allergy medications,” Minister Gillespie said.

“We are also investing in allergen research through the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Government’s new Biomedical Translation Fund.

“Other government initiatives to help people to manage severe allergies include allergen information on food labels and guidelines on preventing or managing food allergies in food for infants and in school canteens.”

Food labelling practices putting allergy sufferers ‘at risk’ – study

Food makers which are not prepared to indicate which unlabelled foods are safe to eat are putting Australian with food allergies at risk, according to a study.

The study by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute addressed the industry’s allergen risk assessment processes.

Companies representing 454 different manufacturing sites in Australia were surveyed, it has been reported by Fairfax.

It was reported that “30 per cent of edible packaged goods on supermarket shelves had been declared safe to eat after a risk assessment for food allergens but still remained unlabelled”.

“This would enable consumers to understand which foods have been through a risk assessment process and which have not,” said senior author, Prof Katie Allen.

“Currently allergy consumers are taking significant risks. This situation is just an accident waiting to happen.”

The most common ingredients that account for more than 90 per cent of food allergies include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish.

About one in 20 children and two in 100 adults suffer from a food allergy, the report added.

“It’s become ubiquitous … industry is keen to keen to inform consumers, but they take a ‘zero risk’ approach, that is, if in doubt, put on a label,” Prof Allen added.

Australian Nobel Laureate develops drug to prevent food allergies

A new drug which “fine tunes” the immune system is being developed to help prevent asthma and allergies to foods such as peanuts and shellfish.

Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Marshall from The University of Western Australia is developing an oral treatment called Immbalance, which is designed to restore balance to the immune system and desensitise allergic responses.

Professor Barry Marshall said the drug would harness the immune properties of common bacterium Helicobacter pylori, that naturally resides in the human gut and move the allergic response down into the normal range.

“Studies in the USA show children infected with Helicobacter have a 45 per cent reduction in allergies and asthma,” Professor Marshall said.

“Now in the 21st Century as Helicobacter is disappearing, humans in response have become hyper-reactive to allergies. If we put Helicobacter back in a safe way we can move allergic people back into a normal range.

“By developing an oral product which contains non-viable Helicobacter we can get the immune advantages that Stone Age man used to get by having live bacteria, with none of the disadvantages.”

Professor Marshall’s company, Ondek, based in Perth and Sydney, has been developing the drug for the past seven years and said it can be formulated as tablets, capsules, liquids or powdered product.

“Children could spread the powder on their cereal or put it in a drink and over the course of a few months could supress their allergic response,” he said.

“We think it’s going to be 100 per cent safe. It won’t remove your immune system; it will just take the edge off.”

Australia has one of the highest allergy and asthma rates in the world and over the last 10 years has seen a 10-fold increase in referrals for food allergies, and a five-fold increase in hospital referrals for food-related severe allergy or anaphylaxis.

“It appears when everything is very clean and children aren’t exposed to enough infectious or non-infectious bacteria the immune system can get ramped up,” Professor Marshall said.

“They then can become more reactive to all kinds of new proteins in their diet or susceptible to pollen in the air.”

Professor Marshall will be looking to trial the drug on humans within two years and hopes to make Immbalance available within five years.

Image: www.nobelprizeii.org

Eggs and prawns may be back on menu for allergic kids

A James Cook University scientist is examining ways to reverse the soaring rates of children developing food allergies to common foods such as eggs and prawns.

James Cook University’s Dr Sandip Kamath was recently awarded $318,768 under the 2016 National Health and Medical Research Council’s Grants Round for his research into food allergies.

Dr Kamath’s research, Hypoallergenic proteins as novel immunotherapeutic candidates for food allergy has highlighted the problem.

“Food allergy to shellfish and egg is a serious problem in young children that often leads to severe reactions,” Dr Kamath said.

“The rate of food allergy has tripled over the past decade and is a leading cause of food related anaphylaxis in Australia.

“Allergen immunotherapy can help patients develop tolerance to the allergenic food.”

Dr Kamath said he was studying the allergens identified in these foods and modifying them so the immune system was trained to tolerate the allergen without any severe or accidental reactions.

“Such modified allergenic proteins will be tested further for safety and efficacy to be used as therapeutic agents to treat allergic diseases. The incidence of food allergy has increased over the last two decades, but avoidance is the only current preventive measure. This is an important opportunity to develop new approaches to tackle food allergy in children.”

In coming months, Dr Kamath will work in JCU’s Molecular Allergy Research Laboratory with Professor Andreas Lopata and Professor Alex Loukas.

Loukas will also receive $938,910 for his research into parasitic worms and possible uses for their ‘worm spit’.

“Billions of people in developing countries are infected with parasitic worms, but they have been eradicated from industrialised nations,” Loukas said.

“Humans co-evolved with worms, so their recent removal has deprived us of signals required to keep inflammation in check.

The worm spit, or the molecules that helminths (worms) secrete from their mouths and outer surfaces, enable their parasitic existence.

His project, Helminth secretomes: from vaccines to novel anti-inflammatory biologics, focuses on worm molecules that can be used to develop vaccines to combat these parasitic infections in developing countries, and also promote anti-inflammatory therapeutics in industrialised nations.




Introduce eggs and peanuts early in infants’ diets to reduce the risk of allergies

In the 1970s, when we were in school, food allergies were rare. But Australian children now have the highest rate of food allergy in the world. Up to one in ten infants and two in ten school-aged children have a proven food allergy.

In the 14 years to 2012, there was a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis, the most severe allergic reaction. Infants and toddlers accounted for much of this increase.

The most common food allergies are to nine main food proteins: cow’s milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, fish and seafood. Egg and peanut allergies are the most common in infants and toddlers.

New research published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows the early introduction of egg (from four to six months) and peanuts (from four to 11 months) is linked to lower rates of egg and peanut allergy.

The researchers analysed the combined results of trials investigating whether food allergens in babies’ diets prevent the development of allergies to these foods. They concluded there was “moderate” certainty that early introduction of egg or peanut was associated with lower risks of egg and peanut allergy.

They also found that early introduction of gluten (wheat) was not associated with an increased risk of coeliac disease.

Further reading: Everything you need to know about coeliac disease (and whether you really have it)

The researchers used the term “moderate certainty” because the review is based on a mix of studies with different designs and of varying quality. Feeding studies can also be difficult to “blind”; for some studies participants and researchers knew who was given egg or peanut, so were open to some bias.

As a result, the authors say more work needs to be done to better understand the precise optimal timing for introducing eggs and peanuts.

Nonetheless, these findings affirm the recently updated Australian infant feeding consensus guidelines. These state that when parents introduce solids – at around six months but not before four months – they should also introduce previously avoided foods such as peanut and egg. This should occur in the baby’s first year of life.

The problem is, there have been so many changes to guidelines over the last few decades that parents are no longer sure what to believe.

In Australia, dietary recommendations aiming to reduce the risk of food allergies began to appear in the early 1990s. They recommended infants avoid certain foods such as egg and peanut. These guidelines were largely based on outcomes of trials focusing on the mother avoiding allergens during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

In 2008, a number of research projects (including our own) questioned whether these older studies were flawed because they had not adequately adjusted the results to account for the fact that those with a family history of allergies adhere to recommendations better than those without, thus biasing the result.

These new studies accounted for this fact. We found, paradoxically, that earlier introduction of foods such as egg and peanut, at around six months, appeared to protect against food allergy. This has resulted in a complete rethink in our approach to preventing food allergy.

(Note that these findings relate to the prevention of food allergies, not the management, which remains unchanged. Children with food allergies should continue to avoid those foods.)

Based on this research, feeding guidelines began stating that earlier introduction did not increase the risk of food allergy and may indeed be protective.

These recommendations were strengthened this year after research trials tested the effect of eating common allergens (in particular, peanut) in the first year of life compared with completely avoiding them. The guidelines now recommend that exposure to egg, peanut and other foods frequently associated with food allergy should occur in the first year of life to offer protection.

It’s still not clear if this approach alone will prevent the whole food allergy epidemic. Some children will still develop food allergies despite following the feeding guidelines.

We know the tendency to develop allergic disease is inherited, but environmental factors, including the microbiome, vitamin D levels, migration effects, the number of siblings and exposure to pets also all appear to play influential roles, as does the presence of early onset eczema. Research trials are investigating the role these factors play in the development of food allergy risk.

In the meantime, experts agree there appears to be a window of opportunity in the first year of life where exposure to foods such as peanut and egg decreases the risk of allergy to these foods. Diet diversity remains an important part of a healthy diet.

For the most recent infant feeding guidelines and information about introducing solid foods to infants, visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website.

The Conversation

Merryn Netting, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children’s Theme; South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Affiliate Lecturer, The University of Adelaide, University of Adelaide and Katie Allen, Paediatric Gastroenterologist and Allergist, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Andy Lim/Shutterstock



Figures show Australia is food allergy capital of world

Australia has the highest level of food allergies in the world and Melbourne is the food allergy capital of the world, according to research.

As Yahoo7News reports, two in every 100 Australian adults are affected by food allergies, while the figure rises to one in 10 for infants.

The rates of these allergies in the western world has been rising for the past 20 years and, as Professor Katie Allen from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute told the Age, there are several theories regarding what is causing this change.

Genetics, over-cleanliness, and vitamin D deficiencies have all been identified as possible causes of the rise in allergies. And another possible cause, distance from the equator, explains why Melbourne has the highest food allergy rate in this country.

The International Congress of Immunology, being held in Melbourne this week, is examining the problem.

Australia is seen as a world leader in this field and, in May, the Centre for Food & Allergy Research (CFAR) Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines Summit released new guidelines. These include:

  1. When your infant is ready, at around six months, but not before four months, start to introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron rich foods, while continuing breastfeeding.
  2. All infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.
  3. Hydrolysed (partially or extensively) infant formula are not recommended for prevention of allergic disease.


Researchers close to developing non-allergenic peanuts

Researchers at the University of Western Australia say they have taken a significant step in developing ‘super’ peanuts that don’t cause allergic reactions.

Phys.org reports that the UWA scientists have joined a global research team which includes organisations such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

By decoding the DNA of peanuts they identified genes which, if altered, could prevent allergic reactions.

Professor Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director- Genetic Gains from ICRISAT and also Winthrop Research Professor with UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and School of Plant Biology was involved in the research.

“This discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally,” Varshney said.

“We will also be able to produce peanuts that have more health benefits with improved nutritional value.”

About three per cent of Australians are allergic to peanuts.


Nestlé collaborates with DBV on diagnostic tool for cow’s milk protein allergy

Nestlé Health Science today has entered into a strategic collaboration with DBV Technologies aimed at developing and bringing to market DBV’s innovative patch-test tool for the diagnosis of Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) in infants.

CMPA is a difficult to diagnose condition, which impacts up to 2-3 per cent¹ of infants and young children during a critical stage of their development. DBV will leverage its proprietary Viaskin technology platform to develop an innovative, ready-to-use, standardized atopy patch-test.

Today, CMPA is often missed in the primary care settings due to the non-specific nature of symptoms associated with the condition, such as eczema, reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, crying and others.

In the future, DBV’s patch-test will enable early and accurate diagnosis of the condition, leading to early nutritional intervention, thereby creating a strong fit with Nestlé Health Science’s nutritional solutions that helps meet the needs of babies and children with food allergies and intolerances (Althéra, Alfaré, Alfamino).

Under the terms of the agreement, DBV grants Nestlé Health Science exclusive worldwide commercialization rights of DBV’s diagnostic tool. Nestlé Health Science will make an upfront payment of EUR 10 million. DBV will be responsible for the development stages, including industrialization and regulatory submissions. Moreover, DBV is eligible to receive development milestones, and if approved, sales milestones and royalty payments on sales.


  1. Høst A. Frequency of cow’s milk allergy in childhood. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2002;89(Sup1):33-7

Teens with asthma at increased risk of life threatening anaphylaxis

There is a link between the incidence of asthma and food allergy in teenage children, according to research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI).

Teenagers with food allergy are four times more likely to report having asthma than those without food allergy. People with multiple food allergies report 10 times the incidence.

According to Professor Katie Allen, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the concern is that for these teens, an anaphylactic reaction may be more likely to be mistaken for an asthma attack, resulting in delayed administration of an adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector and increasing the risk of fatal attacks.

“When someone has both asthma and a severe food allergy, an allergic reaction can easily be mistaken for an asthma attack. Instead of immediately administering adrenaline (epinephrine) valuable time can be wasted administering the asthma inhaler,” said Professor Allen.

“Teens and young adults are already identified as a high risk group for fatal anaphylaxis. This new research adds even greater emphasis on the importance of education and resources around teens with allergy. Not just for the allergy sufferers themselves, but for their families, friends, schools, food outlets, sporting clubs and the wider community.

New data shows that fatality rates from anaphylaxis in Australia increased by 6% per year between 1997-20131. This contrasts with recent UK and USA data, which show no such increase.

“Most food allergic reactions occurred in young males with asthma, after consuming their allergic trigger by mistake away from home. Only a minority of these cases were given adrenaline early enough, with many treated for asthma first and anaphylaxis second,” said Dr Raymond Mullins, lead researcher on the ASCIA-funded study.

“It’s of dire importance that when serious signs and symptoms of a reaction occur, the person lies down and adrenaline is administered as soon as possible. If there is uncertainty as to whether the person is having anaphylaxis or asthma, it is essential adrenaline is given first, followed by asthma medicines.”

Mullins stressed the importance of laying the person flat. The research found that two thirds of food allergy related deaths occurred in those standing or sitting after a reaction, including while being driven to hospital.

It’s a Love match between Hans Oliving and the Hewitt’s

Hans Oliving has partnered with tennis legend Lleyton and his actress wife Bec Hewitt, to encourage families to make the switch to a healthier alternative than traditional deli meats.

Inspired by the so-called Mediterranean diet, the range of Hans Oliving deli meats are produced using Greek olive oil, which offers less saturated fat than comparable products, while also enhancing the product’s taste.
According to company spokesperson Mirabel Rosar, Hans Oliving’s products reflect Australia’s changing priorities and a shift towards healthier choices without sacrificing taste, a brand philosophy, which led the company to Lleyton and Bec.   
Rosar said: “The launch of Hans Oliving is a real milestone for our company and an exciting addition to our product range. We’re focusing on providing Aussies with a wide choice of premium products and healthier options, and we’re thrilled to have the Hewitts on board with us.”

According to Lleyton Hewitt, “Bec and I want to get the most out of the next phase of our lives, and adopting a Mediterranean lifestyle is going to be a key part of keeping us all healthy and happy. It’s not just a way of cooking, it’s about spending time with friends and family and keeping active.”
“I’m looking forward to having fun in the kitchen with Bec and the kids now I’m hanging up my racquet and making some delicious Mediterranean inspired meals with the Hans Oliving range.”
The Hans Oliving range includes Pizza Salami, Peperilli Salami, Hungarian Salami, Traditional Ham, Gypsy Ham, Naturally Smoked Ham, Rindless Pan Sized Bacon, Strassburg, Polish, Chorizo, Kransky, Cheese Kransky, Kabana and Twiggy Sticks.
Aussie consumers will be able to purchase these products thanks to a co-branding agreement between Hans Continental Smallgoods and Creta Farms, based on the Greek island of Crete. 

The family-owned company is the largest meat product producer in Greece and revolutionised the deli meats market with its olive oil produced range since 2001. Hans Oliving is produced in Australia with Creta Farms’ signature olive oil and premium quality lean meat.
The range is now available to purchase across Australia in selected Coles, Woolworths and IGA stores.

Gluten free WeetBix: the need, the factory and the launch

Catering for the gluten free involves a whole lot of research, investment, and for Sanitarium, crawling through air ducts with a toothbrush.

Last year, in response to changing breakfast habits and the rise of gluten free, Sanutarium launched Gluten Free WeetBix; a launch which would rank as one of the most successful product launches in Sanitarium’s history.

“We did some research,” says Alex Garas, Senior Brand Manager for WeetBix Australia at the 2015 Grains & Legumes Consumption Symposium. “We know that people who are on a gluten free diet, particularly those that are eating breakfast cereals, feel like they are compromising. They’re compromising on taste, because with exceptions, some [cereals] don’t taste as good. They have less variety because there’s less to choose from, possibly [less] convenience and they’re also compromising on cost because they’re paying more per serve than they would be if they were eating their gluten equivalents.

“Around one per cent [of Australians] are diagnosed with coeliac, around six per cent have a sensitivity to gluten and almost 25 per cent of people are actively looking to reduce the gluten in their diet.”

Gluten free: It’s here to stay

Sanitarium’s research revealed that a lot of consumers choosing to reduce the gluten in their diet (as opposed to being coeliac), saw the idea of a gluten free WeetBix coming to the market as a “normalising” experience. They appreciated that a big brand, would release a gluten free product and actually cater to these people.

“It was seen as actually quite an emotional thing,” Garas says.

“What was baffling for me and the turning point for me to go ‘this is not a fad’ was when…we did some research in Parramatta and we had tradies turning up, truck drivers and mechanics going ‘yeah my wife’s got me on a gluten free diet, I don’t eat gluten’ and wearing it as a badge of pride…it was an astounding effect and when you hear mechanics and tradies going ‘this is what I’m doing with my life,’ it’s no longer a fad or a trend, it’s here to stay.”

Developing gluten free WeetBix

Sanitarium then set about developing what Gluten Free WeetBix might be.

“We tested a range of gluten free grains and we ended up using Sorghum, and tried to make it as nutritionally similar as we could to WeetBix, certainly in terms of the fat, salt, sugar levels. We didn’t want to have that compromise that some gluten free consumers felt,” Garas says.

After a positive response from sensory research (taste testing), Sanitarium was faced with four options: build a new factory to only make gluten-free WeetBix, dedicate one of their existing factories to gluten free WeetBix, do a reduced gluten “half way house, where we put a line in our existing wheat factory and put in a Perspex wall and hope the wheat didn’t get over the wall”, or not do it at all.

“We didn’t think we could build a new factory because we didn’t think we could pay off our capitalist manager. We didn’t think that we would do a sort of half-assed attempt of putting a lining or a wall there and then it wouldn’t be gluten free, it would be gluten reduced and it would compromise the offer…we don’t want to not do it, so we took our factory over in Carmel and we dedicated that to now making gluten free WeetBix.

“The factory in Carmel has made WeetBix for the best part of four decades. You can how the wheat was embedded in the DNA of that building. So we had people, and I’m not exaggerating, crawling through air ducts, cleaning with toothbrushes, we had people burning the wheat off nuts and bolts on the floor, to make that such a sterile environment. There was no gluten there anywhere.

“We then sourced Sorghum providers. WeetBix is all Australian, we didn’t want to compromise on country of origin with gluten-free WeetBix, so it had to be Sorghum sourced from Australia, but we wanted to source it from a farmer in Australia, who didn’t also grow wheat, because there couldn’t be wheat in the silos, there couldn’t be wheat in the trucks, so we founded a partnership with a family grower in Northern NSW that grows Sorghum,” Garas says.

The launch

When launching Gluten Free WeetBix, it was vital to the company that it did not denigrate wheat.

“Our advertising campaign was ‘welcome back to WeetBix’ and it was very important that we couldn’t take a small part of our portfolio and say ‘that evil wheat, that evil gluten that’s making everyone fat, is our alternative,’ because that’s detrimental to everyone and not what we believe at all, we are simply offering people an alternative,” Garas says.

Developing and launching Gluten Free WeetBix involved millions of dollars investment and Garas says it was “one of the biggest bets we’ve made probably in a decades.”

But, luckily for Sanitarium, it paid off.

“To date, gluten free WeetBix ranks as one of the most successful product launches in Sanitarium’s history, something that we are incredibly proud of,” Garas says.

It started with a single Facebook post with the caption “it’s here” and a picture of the product. That reached 700,000 people.

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Gluten Free Weet-Bix is here! Tag a friend who misses Weet-Bix. More info: https://bit.ly/GFWeetBix #mynewgf

Posted by Weet-Bix on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“We had people phoning us saying ‘is this an April Fool’s joke?’ we had people saying ‘I don’t understand, how can WeetBix be wheat-free?’

“We thought about changing the name, but Sorghum-Bix didn’t quite sound as delicious. About one in ten people had a problem with it being wheat-free WeetBix, the other 9 went ‘but it’s not ‘wheat’, it’s a brand, we can get over it,’” Garas says.

“Our launch campaign had reached around two and a half to three million people before we’d really spent a dollar on advertising. We had a TV ad that went above the line when we were national…but by that point, we’d reached almost three million people and that was due to the passion of which the gluten free shoppers or consumers felt that they were being looked after by a big brand. It was the idea that a big brand would no longer make them go to the ‘there’s something wrong with you’ aisle, but actually mainstream it and say ‘this is for those of you who want to reduce your gluten.’”

In the first 3-4 months, Gluten Free WeetBix had a repurchase rate of 50 per cent, meaning half the people were coming back and buying another box.

“This isn’t about fuelling the anti-wheat brigade and certainly not helping out the likes of Pete Evans, but this is about saying that every Aussie deserves to be raised a WeetBix kid,” Garas says.


Food Allergy Week kicks off

The NSW Food Authority is urging food manufacturers to be aware of their responsibility when it comes to managing the growing increase of food allergies.

“Above and beyond caring, it’s also the law for those who sell or manufacture food to provide accurate information and labelling about food allergens that may be contained in their product,” said Polly Bennett, CEO, NSW Food Authority.

This year’s national Food Allergy Week started yesterday, Sunday 17 May and runs until 23 May 2015.

Bennett said the week it is an important reminder to food business of the important role they play when it comes to managing food allergies.

"This year’s Food Allergy Week theme is “Be aware. Show you Care” and while those people living with food allergies are generally keenly aware of their condition they need the support of the wider community, both consumers and food businesses alike, in managing it safely," Bennett said.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia reports that nine foods are responsible for 90 per cent of food allergy reactions, these foods must be declared:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
  • eggs
  • milk
  • fish
  • crustaceans (shellfish such as prawns and lobsters)
  • sesame
  • soy
  • wheat

Australia has one of the highest rates of food allergies in the world and statistics provided by Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia show that one in ten babies born in Australia today will develop a food allergy.


Entrepreneurs launch portable Halal test

Two French entrepreneurs have launched a portable ‘HalalTest’ that detects the presence of pork in food.

Jean-Francois Julien and Abderrahmane Chaoui first came up with the idea for the portable test (which is aptly named HalalTest) whilst at university, when Julien was in the midst of developing tests for people suffering from food intolerances and allergies, Reuters reports.

"Abderrahmane tells me 'you know, food allergies and food intolerance are very interesting of course but you should really diversify yourself in animal proteins'," Julien told Reuters. "That's when we got the idea to develop a specific anti-body for porcine DNA."

The test is somewhat similar in size to a pregnancy test, and comes with a small test tube where the food sample is mixed with warm water. A test strip is then inserted into the mixture, delivering a result within a two minute time frame.

HalalTest has been released under the pair’s company, Capital Biotech, and Julien and Chaoui say that no other test on the market allows the end user to analyse the food at as easily and cost effectively at their's. Julien and Chaoui state that the tests cost 6.9 euros per unit, and that they are 99 percent accurate.

The company had already received 10,000 pre-orders for the testing kit prior to its launch on Wednesday last week.

Julien and Abderrahmane, have also launched an alcohol test, and are in the process of developing several other tests for food intolerance sufferers.


Freedom Foods look to Asia for partners

The cereal arm of freedom Foods hopes to follow in the footsteps of Pactum Dairy and form a partnership in Asia to boost exports of its allergen-free cereal.

Freedom posted an 11.6 per cent slide in net profit to $12.1 million in the 12 months to June 30, Business Day reports.

Managing director Rory Macleod attributed the decline to booking a pre-tax profit of $11.8 million the year before from reducing its stake in a2 Milk from 25 to 17.9 per cent.

While Freedom's profit eased, its net sales grew 5.97 per cent to $104.6 million. Investors warmed to the result, the company's shares jumping 2.8 per cent to close at $3.25.

Mr Macleod expected more sales growth in the next two years as it increases exports in the US and Asia, but he said he didn't want to rush the expansion.

“We want to be quite thoughtful about what we'll do,” Macleod said. “You have to be very careful about what products you are going to take up there and sell.”

Macleod said working with a Chinese company was therefore more preferable than relying on distributors.

“In China it's about partnerships collaboration, which we prefer to do and we enjoy because it's about value-adding on the products and ideas' side, and your partner taking it to market and dealing with consumers.

“We have got a couple of groups that we have in mind but it is a little way off.”

Macleod expects the company will be able to ramp up cereal exports to Asia later next year or in early 2016.

The focus on cereals comes five months after Freedom and Bright Foods struck a UHT supply deal, which is worth about $40 million.

The long-life milk is produced at its Shepparton factory, which achieved its five-year target of processing 100 million litres of milk within a few months of operation.

Mr Macleod said the strong growth at Pactum would not only lead to increase sales and profitability – with more opportunities in private label and domestic branded products – but also help strengthen its links with Asia.

“The investment in Pactum Dairy Group provides a material opportunity to increase exposure to the growing demand for high quality and safe dairy products from South East Asia, including China.

“We see that as an opportunity to leverage Freedom's uniqueness and capability.”


Barilla launches gluten free pasta range in Australia

Italian pasta company, Barilla has brought its gluten free pasta range to Australian shores following the success of the products in the United States.

According Coeliac Australia, demand for gluten free products including pasta has risen significantly over the past 12 months with 28 percent of the population now following a gluten free diet to some extent.

“The product was launched in the US late last year and in just three months gained 16 per cent market share. Similar results have been achieved in Europe,” said Barilla's marketing manager, Carly King.

 “Gluten free pasta now represents nine per cent of the total Australian pasta market and grew 38 per cent last year.”

King says that Australia represents a significant opportunity for Barilla’s new product, and that the company underwent extensive research and product testing to ensure the gluten free varieties maintained the quality, taste and characteristics of regular pasta. 

“Our unique formulation of flours that are naturally gluten free (white maize, yellow maize and rice flour) rather than refined starches results in a product that delivers an  ‘al dente’ texture and neutral taste but also eliminates common undesirable gluten free pasta traits like grittiness,” said King.

Barilla’s new gluten free range is available in spaghetti, elbows and penne and is produced in a dedicated gluten free facility.


Parents go nuts over Nestle’s ‘deceptive’ lunchbox claim

Food manufacturer Nestle and charity group Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) have been accused of promoting a new Uncle Tobys nut bar as ‘lunchbox friendly’ when in fact it should not be consumed by people with nut allergies.

According to SMH, Nestle, which owns Uncle Tobys, and worked with A&AA to develop the new products, is promoting the snack bars as a suitable option for school playgrounds, despite acknowledging that they’re not suitable for students with nut allergies.

Several doctors and parents are arguing that the affiliation of Nestle and A&AA is confusing and that the ‘lunchbox friendly’ claim is misleading.

“I think the 'lunchbox friendly' labelling is really deceptive. Mums are going to think this is a safe product when they see it,” said paediatric allergist Elizabeth Pickford.

Parents are also angered by the ‘lunchbox friendly’ claim, with Geelong mum Nicole Krasic posting on Uncle Tobys’ website, “''I'm all for education about allergies, but the [announcement] is simply Uncle Tobys marketing a product that 'appears nut free' and a way to ensure they can still sell products to kids. I'm disappointed that A&AA would support such an idea.''

A&AA, which receives funding from Nestle, is also encouraging schools that ban nuts in students’ lunchboxes to reconsider the policy. Together with Nestle, the charity wrote to thousands of schools and kindergartens last month, claiming “'While allergen restrictions do reduce risk, this strategy must be part of an overall management plan as risk can never be totally removed. To think so would increase risk to those with a food allergy.''

In recent years Nestle has lost market share to health companies that make nut-free products, as schools adopt strict no-nut policies.


Springhill Farm wins Prepared Foods category at Food awards: video

Springhill Farm's Real Bread Mix took out the top spot in the 2013 Food magazine award's Prepared Meals category.

Springhill Farm originated on a sheep and grain farming property near Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, where the Barber family farmed for two generations. The family hosted kindergarten and school children for a country experience, where they could feed the animals, watch sheep being shorn and collect stalks of oats to observe, taste and smell the grain being transferred into flour.

The muesli slice was their final taste of the country before heading home, and it was this modest muesli slice that won the hearts of these school children and fuelled the idea of moving the focus of the business to baking.
Now, 25 years later, Springhill Farm has been passed on to the next generation of family bakers, the Whatleys, who have spent years determining the right ingredients, flavours and textures to create a range of slices, biscuits and gluten-free products for consumers, both with and without food allergies.

With its Real Bread Mix, Springhill Farm wanted to prove that, despite what many think, gluten-free products aren't always dry and tasteless. To do this, the company added flaxseed flour, psyllium and pea protein to its bread mix, ensuring the resulting bread is not only gluten-free, but also has a fluffy texture and what the company refers to as "as-good-as-the-real-thing taste."

In early 2012, Springhill Farm further developed its range, adding 'Seed' and 'Fruit' varieties to The Real Bread Mix foundation, with the added benefit of also being wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free and nut-free. 

These mixes can not only make bread, but can also be substituted for traditional wheat or fruit flours to make hot cross buns, a variety of puddings, biscuits and cakes.

Accepting the award for the Prepared Foods category at this year's Food magazine awards was Fiona Whatley, co-owner of Springhill Farm. She said "We've got three flavours: Original, Fruit and Seed. It's gluten-free, egg-, wheat-, nut-, dairy- and soy-free. It can be used for bread, pizzas, biscuits, cakes, muffins – all sorts of things. So it's really versatile and applicable to lots of lots of different people."