The Business Side of Allergy Safe Brands

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stew potI’m going to let my marketing and business side out in this post. This is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for several months, basically since Annie’s announced they had been purchased by General Mills. The amount of unhappy customers and comments to their Facebook page was crazy and the majority were not in favor of this merger. From a food allergy perspective I understand; General Mills is not known for making safe products or showing much concern for removing unhealthy ingredients from their food. From a marketing standpoint I also understand why Annie’s decided to sell to General Mills. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you look at all the available information.

I have business in my blood; both of my grandfathers owned their own companies and were well respected in their communities. My father, uncle, and I all worked for my grandfather until the day he sold to a larger company. It did not end well. The large company did not want any of the family to remain in the new business despite our connections and knowledge of the community. This would not be last time I’d be a part of a business acquisition. I’ve been a part of four now and each has been different. Some turned out to be a positive, some ended very negative, and the last I’m still undecided on.

There is so much we don’t see when I company is sold or acquired. In my Grandfathers case he was ready to retire and my father and uncle weren’t in a position to purchase the company from him so selling was really the only option for him.

Lets take a look at General Mills and see what all the fuss is about with Annie’:

  • They aren’t strangers to a healthier diet either despite the GMO/non GMO debate. General Mills introduced an entire line of gluten free Chex cereals a while back. We unfortunately don’t buy these gluten free cereals in my home because they are made on shared equipment that also processes nuts, one of my husbands worst allergies, but it’s a step in the right direction for a company that is testing the waters of the gluten-free lifestyle market. A market expected to reach over $10B in sales in 2014 and projected to reach around $15B by 2016. What large food company wouldn’t want a portion of those sales, let alone a large chunk? And what goes with the gluten-free market more than the all-natural market.
  • General Mills owns other large health food brands like Larabar and Cascadian Farms. With Cascadian Farms they’ve mostly left them untouched so they could maintain their organic rating. We love their tater tots and other veggies because nothing is added to them like larger name brands that add wheat to tater tots for some odd reason. General Mills did make some changes to a Cascadian Farms cereal and the loyal fans noticed it pretty quickly. Thankfully it looks like General Mills hasn’t made any other drastic changes to the Cascadian Farms brand since then. Another lesson learned, hopefully? This also has me wondering why a company like General Mills that is trying so hard to hide GMO’s owns more than a few brands that are adamant at not using any GMO’s or unnatural ingredients.

What about Annies, why did they sell? And why did they sell to General Mills of all companies given their reputation.

  • From what I can tell Annie’s was succeeding in the all-natural and gluten-free market. They were growing, sales were up, and they had a growing loyal following. Then we get to the but; profits, margins, and costs. While business was great the cost of Annie’s all-natural ingredients was going up cutting into margins and profits. So how do you keep costs to the customer down while still providing the same great product without hurting your margins? One option is to sell to a larger company with connections and more experience in food markets who can help you; enter General Mills.

I still don’t understand why Annie’s chose General Mills. They may have made the best offer, or even the only offer. Either way I do understand why Annie’s sold. It’s hard to predict how many loyal customers will stay when you are forced to raise prices or start looking at layoffs and that’s where Annie’s was most likely at. There could be positives to this acquisition; we could see Annie’s product line expand with a larger research and development budget, we could see prices drop with General Mills experience in the food market, or General Mills could benefit from having one more all-natural brand and expand their other brands to include more healthy product offerings. Yes I know this last one is a long shot, but we can always hope. There are positives to this acquisition and we have to give Annie’s and General Mills time to adjust and decide where they want to go. If General Mills is smart they will see how passionate Annie’s customers are given the response to this merger and leave the ingredients untouched. Don’t give up on Annie’s just yet. There may still be great things to come from them.

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Caring for the Caregiver

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oven mitMy husband does a lot of research on his food allergies; suspected causes for food allergies, genetic links, studies to prevent or stop food allergies. He even looks into the different types of allergies and their reactions. I on the other hand look at what he can and can’t eat, things I could be doing around the house that might help like air purifiers, furnace filters, and even carpet vs. hardwood floors.

Because I do the vast majority of cooking in our house, and research on foods, when I’m away or ill it can be a struggle for him. Such was the case this past week. After a scheduled procedure I was left exhausted and in stitches. I am thankfully doing better, but still have to wait a few weeks to get the stitches removed and still struggling with some pain I wasn’t expecting. I can’t lift anything and am limited to what I can do until the stitches come out. This meant mom was not available to cook meals and fast food just isn’t an option with all my husband’s food allergies.

Anyways, with me sleeping long hours and in and out of pain throughout the day my husband and the kids have been making due with Annie’s mac and cheese, all natural hot dogs, Ian’s chicken nuggets and fish sticks, Cascadian Farm tater tots, and the few leftovers in the fridge. He’s been helping them in the kitchen and making sure that everything stays safe.

In the past we’ve struggled to keep my husband’s food safe while the kids are helping in the kitchen. This time it’s been much smoother and we’ve learned from past mistakes. It’s been interesting to watch him fill in on this roll over the past week. Showing the kids all the little tricks we both use to make sure his food is safe when we eat the occasional separate meal. Reminding them of our color coded pots, pans, and even pot holders so they knew what to use as our kids got to help make their meals.

I know that he is happy now that I am back on my feet and cooking meals again. Tonight we will have roasted pork loin with potatoes and carrots instead of yet another meal of leftovers or frozen chicken nuggets with a side of tater tots.

Who picks up the slack when the main caregiver is ill in your home? Do they know all your tricks and tips to keep your loved ones safe from their food allergies? Do you think about things like separate pots and pans, or potholders? We even have dedicated spoons and spatulas for allergy friendly foods. Share your tips and tricks with the rest of us in the comments.

When We Stuggle to Give Thanks

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Thanksgiving has come and gone, but even though I was looking forward to the holiday there were a few things I was struggling with then and still now. With my husband’s food allergies there’s always a concern with a large group that he’ll be safe, that he’ll get enough to eat, and that he’ll enjoy the day. It’s the same for all of us who have a loved one with food allergies this time of year so you all know what I’m talking about. Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, even my seven year old son asked me what I was thankful for as we sat down to eat. I told him I was thankful for him, and he gave me that big toothless grin. His little thoughtful reminders can make my day, but I was struggling with more than concern this Thanksgiving:

  • When loss makes it difficult to be thankful. Just two years ago my grandfather passed away right before Thanksgiving. He meant a lot to me and even though he had been sick it was a difficult loss. That same week my husband’s cousin passed away in an accident. He was young and had so much ahead of him. These losses made for a trying holiday filled with tears. This year my husband’s grandmother passed away the week before Thanksgiving. She had this amazing laugh and piercing blue eyes. She always told stories of growing up in the sandhills of Nebraska and teaching at several country schools. Her death right before Thanksgiving made me think of all the families in the food allergy community who have lost loved ones recently to allergic reactions and how we were not the only family going through a difficult loss during the holidays.
  • Too many people not able to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Thankfully I was able to spend the entire day with my family, but I work in marketing for a large ecommerce site that also has several retail stores. So I was up early on Friday morning, at my desk, as the retail stores opened to handle any issues that came up. I appreciate that our stores are closed on Thanksgiving and that management understands that it’s more important for employees to have this day to spend with their families than to let customers shop in the store a few hours earlier. As a marketer I understand why stores think they need to be open, but hate that they treat their employees like this. I think it says more to consumers when you stay closed on Holidays. This also brought me back to my husbands many years as a law enforcement officer having to work these holidays. A quick meal and a hug before you head out again. Sometimes working on a holiday can’t be avoided. If you didn’t get to spend Thanksgiving with your family or those you care about my heart goes out to you. .
  • Family that won’t make the effort to serve a meal that’s safe. I love my family and for the most part they have been understanding about my husband’s food allergies. I sent my mom a great newsletter I had received that talked about what ingredients to avoid when picking out your turkey. Unfortunately not only was I too late, but the turkey she had already purchased was not safe. My grandmother was bringing a bone-in-ham so I was hopeful that this would be safe for him to eat. Early Thanksgiving morning I received a phone call about the ingredients of the ham, also not safe. Frustrated I blurted out to my mother; “It’s meat! Why do they put all this extra junk in it?” I thankfully had a small ham I knew was safe in the freezer.  I let my husband know of the change in plans, he was just as frustrated and voiced his concerns. He was really looking forward to turkey and now he couldn’t even have the nicer ham. We are able to find meat that is safe every day, it’s become habit for us. We know what to look for and what to avoid. If you’re not concerned about harmful ingredients your focus is most likely on size (will this turkey feed everyone) and is it on sale. We packed up the side dishes we were bringing; candied sweet potatoes, sweet corn from our garden, a gluten-free apple crisp, and our ham and headed out for the day. I don’t know what I expected, but was shocked when there was not even an apology directed towards my husband. We had a good day still visiting with family we don’t see often, a few games of Pitch (my grandfathers favorite card game), and good food.

Maybe my expectations are too high, but I couldn’t help think of my husband’s family and how accommodating they have always been since we shared his food allergy diagnosis with them. Even down to his cousins making allergy friendly rice krispie bars for him at family gatherings. I wish we as a community were more aware of food allergies instead of treating them as just another fad diet. My only conclusion to this Thanksgiving is that the next big family gathering with my family I will be bringing a main dish and not as many sides.

The Concerns We Have For Adults and Kids With Food Allergies

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Going to take a little break from all the recent posts on social media and focus on something that was influential in starting Allergy Friendly in the spring of 2013. At the time the majority of information and blogs available were focused on children and nut allergies. While we have a lot of the same struggles and concerns whether it be a child or a spouse with food allergies some things were different. There were also numerous blogs and sites focused on nut allergies, but not as many that talked about multiple food allergies. I wanted to help fill this void and talk about how dealing with food allergies as an adult is different than a child, and no one was writing from the view point of the spouse which I thought was interesting as well. Since then I’ve dug a little deeper and gotten more involved on social media I’ve found there are several sites that talk about multiple allergies and even a few adults dealing with food allergies, but still feel my viewpoint as a spouse is important to share.

Some things that are the same:

I worry about his safety daily; yes he’s a grown man and knows what he can and can’t eat. He has his epi pen and his coworkers know he has food allergies, but he often works outside the office. I also worry about if he needed his epi pen and couldn’t get to it do his coworkers know where it is and how to use it? What if he’s out on the road and left it at his desk? I know he doesn’t worry about these things because when I express my concern he laughs and says his reactions have never been that bad that he’s needed to use his epi pen. This attitude concerns me even more.

When he does have a reaction I immediately feel guilt. I go over everything in my head multiple times trying to make sure I did everything I could to keep him safe. That sounds like more of a parents concern, but I always go back to our vows in this instance; “in good times and bad times” and “in sickness and in health”. I’m in this with him through thick and thin, and everything in-between.

Clean takes on new meaning. I remind the kids to wash their hands constantly. I use the sanitize feature on the dishwasher, everytime. We have two different colors of pots and pans, black for allergy friendly food and the blue set for everything else. There are little bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere in the house and cars, air purifiers in the family room and bedroom, and dye free-perfume free laundry detergent.

We have weird rules that others would frown at; like Shane always dishes his plate up first, just in case. Most of the family understands this now and doesn’t comment, but I’ve seen some looks at larger gatherings and potlucks when he gets in line in front of the kids.

Being excluded. Both children and adults with food allergies are excluded in different ways. A child has to sit at a special table or even by themselves at lunch. Parties in the classroom, parties at a friends house, and even family gatherings. For an adult it’s being excluded by coworkers or friends who want to eat a specific restaurant, or the entire family being excluded from invites because people are just scared or uneducated. Either way, being excluded because of food allergies sucks whether you’re a child or an adult.

Things that are different:

That attitude. If you have a teenager with food allergies maybe you do understand what I’m talking about. That laid back attitude, I don’t want to carry my epi-pen  everywhere, my reactions aren’t that bad attitude. It scares me, I know he takes his food allergies seriously. We’ve changed our entire diet because of it, but why not take every aspect of it seriously? Maybe this is some macho invincible thing that I just will never understand as a wife, but it doesn’t make me worry about him any less.

As an adult he knows what he can and can’t eat. Thankfully, I don’t have to explain to him what he can and can’t eat or worry that he’ll accept a piece of food from someone containing a food that would make him sick. He knows what to look for on ingredient labels, even the weird terms that secretly mean soy or wheat. In fact I hate grocery shopping with him because he’ll fill the cart with his favorites: Ian’s chicken nuggets and fish sticks, Enjoy Life Bars, all natural Cheetos and Ruffles, and bottled soda made with real sugar.

Did I miss anything? What one thing about food allergies has affected your life the most? Share in the comments so we can all say “oh yes, so true!”

How to Use Social Media Allergy Friendly Style

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If you haven’t noticed, several of my recent blogs have been focused on social media. I’ve been working on my masters degree and thought a social media class would be great to not only help me with the Allergy Friendly site and blog, but also as a marketing professional. After several weeks of reading, discussion, and research I wanted to share what’s stood out the most for me in my social media class and what’s helped the Allergy Friendly site the most:

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Blogging

  • Voice –  It’s really important to use a consistent voice throughout your blog. When I decided I wanted to blog I looked at a lot of my favorites blogs and the style they wrote in. Most were easy to read because of the writers laid back, friendly style. This was the voice I wanted to use in my blog so I try to treat it like I’m talking to my friends, but still have a serious tone at times when subject requires it.
  • Focus – Pick a topic you’re passionate about and have a lot to share. My husband’s allergies have changed our life in many ways. I keep a list of all the little allergy related issues that come up in our life or that might make a good blog post and scroll through the list when I’m struggling on what to talk about in a new blog post. Other times there is something that has affected our life in that particular week that has really stood out in my mind, like when his coworkers moved their lunch meeting to an allergy friendly restaurant so he could join them.
  • Frequency – I’ve already failed on this one, but am trying to make amends to my loyal followers. Consistency is key or you’ll start losing followers and relevancy on whatever topic you’re focused on. I was pretty consistent with posts on my blog until my husband got sick during the holidays in 2013. Honestly I should have been blogging about this experience and the many tests that were run to rule out more allergies and other possibilities, but I was so worried about what they would or wouldn’t find I couldn’t even think about anything else and I didn’t blog for months as a result. He’s fine now by the way. No new allergies, but more changes in his diet.

Twitter

  • Choose your followers wisely – Follow other experts and bloggers talking about the same or similar subjects, or even your competitors. The more active they are the better; more relevant information to share with your followers.
  • Sharing on Social Media – Being active on social media doesn’t take much. Share, like, Tweet, Retweet, and favorite anything that you find interesting or relevant to your blogs focus. Those you follow like to see their links Retweeted and shared and will return the favor, and your followers will enjoy seeing different perspectives as well. If you need some help getting up and running on Twitter, pick up Mark Schaefer’s Tao of Twitter.

Google+

  • Opportunity awaits on Google+ – There are more people using Google+ than you think and the positives of sharing your blog posts on Google+ are plenty. More discussion happens here and Google+ posts show up in Google searches higher than any other social media. If you want your blog to be found by more new followers you must, at a minimum, be sharing your blog posts on Google+. If you need some direction on Google+ get your hands on a copy of Chris Brogan’s Google+ for Business or Guy Kawasaki’s What the Plus.

Managing Social Media

  • 20 minute management – Don’t be afraid of management tools like HootSuite, TweetDeck, or Seesmic. These tools can save you so much time getting your blogs and other content out there consistently and across all of your social media platforms. Twenty minutes and you can schedule tweets and posts of your current blog posts, past posts, and other valuable content for an entire week like these amazing allergy friendly sugar cookies, perfect for Halloween treats. This frees up the rest of your week to share other content you’re reading, or thoughts on your blogs focus in general.

As I share more about my husbands food allergies and our challenges as a family I get more feedback from followers that makes it all feel worthwhile. I know at least someone is getting value out of what I’m sharing, which was the whole point of starting Allergy Friendly. If I’ve shared something you loved, please let me know. If there’s something specific you’d like me to talk about, please share that as well. Any other advice you’d give for someone new to blogging or social media?

 

Does Social Media Help or Hurt Allergy Friendly Brands?

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This past week the Gluten-Free buyers guide was promoting their survey for the 5th annual Gluten-Free awards. Anyone could vote on their favorite brands in multiple categories and the results would be shared in their annual list later this year. I was curious to see what brands were mentioned so clicked through the link to vote for my favorites.

There were several categories with brands listed that I had never heard of before. There were also several where I was aware of the brand, but don’t use it because while they may be free of wheat and gluten they contain other allergens that my family must avoid. Several of my favorite brands weren’t even on the list.

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This is concerning. How do I not know about some of these brands? They could be safe for my family, but they clearly aren’t available in my area or they don’t promote themselves in our little corner of the Rocky Mountains. I know we live in a somewhat remote area, but Denver is just a few hours away. What about my favorite brands? Are they too regional to be included in the list, or too small that people aren’t aware of them? Or is there another brand out there that is more popular and tastes, dare I say, better than my favorite? So I decided to do a little digging on a few brands in the list.

Unknown brands on the list:

Bumbalooza – They are on twitter, but I’ve never seen a mention or tweet from those I follow or follow me. They have a Facebook page and are an east coast brand. Interesting mixes that all look yummy, but nothing I would buy since I have recipes for most everything they list.
Simple Mills – Has a Twitter page, but immediately saw from the photo they use almond flour – no good for my family. Also promoted as dairy, soy, GMO and weird product free. Cute, but you use nuts, a very common allergen.
Better Batter – Here’s a confusing one, 19 people I follow or follow me also follow Better Batter, but still I’ve never heard of them. Somethings not adding up here. Maybe not promoting their brand the right way on Twitter?

My favorites not on the list:

Tinkyada pasta – Best gluten-free pasta hands down, but their website is extremely outdated and no social media presence at all. This really hurts them, but you can still find the #tinkyada hashtag all over Twitter.
Bella Gluten Free flour mix – Easily my favorite gluten-free flour mix. They have a Facebook page but not a Twitter page. They have a link on their homepage to share a twitter link to their site to your followers. Very odd, why no physical presence on Twitter when you have a Facebook page? They are also a local brand, made in Colorado.
Simply Organic sauces and spices – I follow them on twitter along with three other mutual followers. Do they not promote that many of their packaged sauces and seasoning mixes are also gluten, wheat, egg, nut, and soy free? Missing a big market here!

It should have been a bit more obvious on my favorite brands when I realized I hadn’t followed a few of them on twitter. There’s just no twitter presence there and in this case it hurts the majority of them. This tells me that you can have a great product that sells well, but if you’re not promoting yourself properly on social media you’re missing potential new markets and growth opportunities. It also tells me that you can be on social media, but if you’re not using it properly why are you even there? It doesn’t take much time to be successful on Twitter or Facebook, don’t be afraid of it! There are so many articles and books out there that offer advice and support to get you started. *Take heed above mentioned brands, you could be doing so much more on social media with very little effort!*

Have you voted on the Gluten Free Buyers Guide annual list? There’s still time, vote here.
Any other brands you think should have made the list or were you like me wondering why you’d never heard of certain brands before?

The Many Types of Food Allergy Apps

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Smart phones and mobile apps have opened up a whole new world for people to access information anywhere at anytime. For the food allergy community this means a variety of apps to help us navigate a world where food of all things can ruin your day or even take your life. Looking at the endless number of apps available to the food allergy community they can be categorized into 4 groups; restaurant apps, scanning apps, journaling apps, and then there’s the non-food allergy apps.

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Restaurant apps

AllergyEats – This mobile app and website lets you list your location and search for the best allergy friendly restaurants for your specific needs. The ratings and reviews are provided from other users, and you can leave your own reviews as well. I feel more comfortable knowing that the information provided is from other food allergy sufferers and not just a scan of their menu ingredients like many other food allergy apps out there.

Hold the Allergen – Select your allergies from a list of the nine most common food allergies and this app will scan the menus of forty fast food and chain restaurants. Select your restaurant and menu item and the app will list any allergens in the item if present.

Scanning Apps

Nxtnutrio – Let’s you add your own allergies so can look for those not in the top eight like other scanning allergy apps. Great for families with unusual food allergies, like ours that has a tomato allergy. Nxtnutrio also lists alternatives and a section for comments.

SafeEats – SafeEats is a scanning app that lists the most common food allergies. You select your allergies from the list and then use their barcode scanner on ulc labels at stores. The app then highlights any of the possible allergens selected.

Journaling Apps

Food Allergy Detective – This journaling app lets you list your meals, symptoms, and any notes about the meal you want to add. Having a journal in app form is easier than carrying around a notepad and pen.

Allergy Journal – A journaling app that remembers your entries with a date and time stamp so you can return to edit them. This app also lets you name foods and dishes whatever you like instead of selecting from a set list.

Outdoor Allergy Apps

Pollen.com (Allergy Alert) – Pollen.com provides the five day allergy forecast for your location. It also lists an asthma index and a symptom chart that lets you track your symptoms.

WebMD Allergy – Takes it a step further and lists the levels of different allergens in the air in your location; dander, mold, grass, trees, ragweed, etc. There are also settings to display indoor allergies, drug allergies, and general allergies.

Did I miss your favorite? Are there other food allergy apps out there that you love or that haven’t worked well for you? Tell me all about them in the comments.