The Allergy and Gluten-Free Show, London Olympia 2

I hate exhibitions.  No, really, I do.  Loathe them.  While I have friends who relish the opportunity to go and sample products, enter prize draws at different stands – one has an impressive record for winning such things, too – and come away with bagfuls of free samples, I generally steer well clear.  After all, it’s not my idea of fun to wander round a crowded exhibition hall along with hundreds of other people all crammed into the same space trying generally to see the same things at something approximating the same time.

So I’ll admit that since dragging my long-suffering husband to the Baby Show back in 2005, when I was pregnant with Harvey, I haven’t been to any others.

There was, however, one other show I went to in 2005, and that was what was – at the time – just called The Allergy Show.  I went with a friend who was a member of Coeliac UK and had free tickets, and we wandered around tasting gluten-free foods and trying out some of the cosmetics – this was before any dietary diagnoses for me, so I was far more concerned at the time with my reaction to cosmetics.  Overall, we hadn’t been impressed, and the highlight of the day proved to be sitting in a bar opposite Olympia 2 after we’d exhausted the show, enjoying an ice-cold drink and sharing a nice bowl of chips.

Still, things do move on and, as I’d not been since having to drop gluten, lactose and soy from my diet, it seemed as good a time as ever to go back, see what was new and hope to see something that made it worth the trip.

The biggest clue to how things have developed is in the name – The Allergy and Gluten-Free Show.  Where my previous visit seemed to show more of a balance of stands, with perhaps a predominance of products for asthma sufferers (although that may be the size of the stands, of necessity bigger when you’re thinking of bedding etc), food intolerances and allergies seem to be the bulk of the exhibition these days.  And while there are some big high street players in there – Sainsbury’s and Asda both have demo stands, M&S had a stand sampling cakes and some rolls – as well as some of the larger brands from the ‘free from’ universe – Juvela, Dietary Specials, Orgran, Amisa, Dove’s Farm and Lactofree to name but a few – it was refreshing to see that there are also some smaller companies booking stands.  Which is perhaps testament to the power of the internet to transform the way we buy things.  Either way, you won’t find me complaining to see the likes of Sweet Cheeks, WAG Free Café or Cake Crusader exhibiting at the show, because they all started from a similar position of being sick of the status quo and are doing their bit to change it.

Of course, the exhibition hall was crowded.  Of course, there wasn’t enough room to allow people to walk freely between the stands, especially once you factored in the buggies and bags and everything else, which meant I probably didn’t see everything I might have wanted, purely out of frustration trying to get from one place to another.

Of course it was hot and stuffy and noisy in there, which saps your patience and make you far less likely to persist in your quest to find all the stalls you’d earmarked in advance.  And of course it turned into a scrum when M&S decided to just dump their boxed products on the counter and let people take them home for free – one minute I was innocently holding a box of lemon cake to check the ingredients, the next someone was trying to grab it out of my hands – but I’m not going to blame that one on the organisers.

Overall, however, it was a positive experience.  I’ve tasted some delicious things today, and some passable ones.  Mostly, I’ve met people who were passionate about what they were doing, wanting to make their product the best they can, and that can only be good for those of us who suffer with food intolerances and allergies, whether we like exhibitions or not.  I’d give the event 8/10 for content, but 6.5/10 for realisation.

Will I be going back next year?  On the strength of this year’s exhibitors, probably.  But it would be nice for the exhibition’s organisers to look into taking on more space so that people can move freely, sit down and rest from time to time and generally enjoy the show, rather than endure it.

ETA: If you were wondering why I’ve not described any stalls and their offerings in particular detail, it’s because I found a few that I really liked, with some truly fabby things on them, and wanted to do them justice separately, rather than them getting lost in my views on the Allergy Show.  I’ll be posting them up in the next few days 🙂

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