Alpro’s plans to combine their soya and nut milk-making facilities on one site thereby, as they see it, necessitating nut warnings on their soya milk, have caused understandable uproar within the nut-allergic community.
All too of many of the rapidly growing number of allergic children (creeping towards 10% at latest reckoning) are allergic to both nuts and dairy so soya milk has been a staple alternative food. Not only do soya milks provide an excellent milk alternative but many of them are fortified (of particular importance to children on restricted diets), they are very widely available in shops and when eating out, and they are reasonably priced. And as long as they were made on a nut-free site, which up till now they have been, there was no fear of contamination and they did not need to carry the dreaded ‘may contain’ warning which would, effectively, make them ‘no-go’ products for anyone with a nut allergy themselves or with a child with a nut allergy.
It is not entirely clear (I am awaiting clarification from Alpro as I write) whether they are proposing merely to manufacture their nut milks on the same site as their soya milk but on separate equipment, or actually on the same equipment. Obviously there is a significant difference in the level of risk depending on which it is. If the former then, as the Alpro: Save Our Soya campaign is suggesting, Alpro should have no difficulty in implementing manufacturing controls which would reduce the risk to so low a level that they would not feel obliged to add a nut warning. If, however, they are manufacturing on the same plant then, although there is theoretically no reason why controls should not still be put in place to ensure a minimal risk, the possibility of contamination must remain higher and might justify a ‘may contain’ warning.
(This situation illustrates only too well, yet again, the desperate need for allergen ‘thresholds’ to which industry can work thereby obviating the need for warnings when the risk was below the trigger level. See the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s conference earlier this month.)
The problem with this particular move on Alpro’s part is that they obviously did not take their dairy/nut allergic customers into consideration when they took what is, presumably, a perfectly sensible commercial decision to combine the manufacture of two lines. While this shows a not uncommon lack of forethought on the part of large companies, one needs to remember that Alpro is not a ‘freefrom’ company. Their mission in life, which they take very seriously, is to save the planet by persuading us all to eat and drink plant products rather than meat based ones – check out their website to read about their aspirations. But, as with the products of several other vegetarian, vegan and organic companies, they have also proved to be extremely useful if you are on a restricted diet. None the less, Alpro’s focus remains on vegetarian living, not on freefrom living. If you look on the ‘Healthcare professionals’ section of their website, for example, of the 15 topics that they cover, only two concern allergy.
This is not at all to suggest that, because they are primarily interested in saving the planet by catering to non-meat eaters, they should be allowed to ignore the needs of their much smaller group of allergic customers. Even though Alpro now belongs to the massive American dairy company Dean Foods (they were sold by their Belgian founders, Vandermoortele in 2009) they still claim to be an ethical company with the welfare of the world, rather than just their own pockets, at heart. In which case they need to consider the welfare of all of their customers, especially those for whom they provide a lifeline in an otherwise food-hostile world.
And, despite this bad start, they do have plenty of time to sort the situation out. Even though they are starting to change their packaging now, the production change is scheduled for the end of 2014 – 12 months away. Plenty of time to review their manufacturing processes and set up protocols, practices and controls which will ensure that the risk of contamination is so low that ‘may contain’ warnings are not necessary.
However, pressure may need to be brought to bear on them to persuade them to do so….. So…..
Do check in to the Alpro:SOS campaign where they suggest how you can support them by:
And, watch this space….
Addendum: Way back in 2008 a not dissimilar situation arose with regard to Provamel, Alpro’s smaller organic subsidiary, this time in relation to their desserts. Because they were unable to source the appropriate organic wheat-free thickener, they changed the thickener in their desserts to a gluten-free but not a wheat free one – to the horror of wheat-free, dairy-free customers for whom the desserts had been a godsend. It took six months and a good deal of complaining from the wheat-allergic community, but they did manage to source an organic tapioca starch thickener and the desserts became, once again, wheat free.