Judging at the Free From Awards
Our Judging Panel
The Free From Food Awards recognise products that fill a gap or meet a genuine occasion need in the free from market, that display an innovative use of ingredients, that remove unnecessary allergens and have clear labelling. Our judges look at the product visual and aroma, and how this aligns with expectation, flavours and texture. And all of this is obviously considered within the context of free from: what may be a simple product to develop in main category can be infinitely more challenging in free from. And finally scale of production, what a small free from start up can achieve vs a large FMCG brand is very different yet both are welcomed by the free from and allergic consumer.
It is not a simple 1st, 2nd and 3rd type of scoring. The breadth of entries we receive can vary hugely yet many are, within their own rights, medal worthy, making it often impossible to select just one Gold winner. If an entry is medal worthy, based on the judging criteria we have in place, it will be awarded one.
It’s a complex process and one that relies heavily upon the varied experiences of our team of dedicated judges.
Who are our judges?
We have a large pool of expert judges from all across the food and drink sector. This ensures that you can trust that your entries are all being assessed and critiqued by the best placed professionals in the industry. Please Meet Our Judges to see some of our judges.
Judges for the Free From Awards include:
- Food & drink professionals – manufacturers, development chefs, food technicians, cookery writers, bloggers etc.
- Nutritionists, dieticians and other health professionals
- Coeliacs and allergy reactors
- Laypeople and food professionals without allergies to benchmark products against their non-free from equivalents
Because the free from sector is still relatively small, some of our judges may be professionally involved with some of our entrants. We ensure that no judge is on a judging panel for a category that one of their clients has entered by asking them to declare any interests they may have when we confirm their booking. Should it happen that a judge does end up on a panel that includes one of their clients’ products, then they are welcome to remain in the room but they may not comment on the products, nor do we count their marks for that session.
How do we choose our judges?
We invite potential judges to apply via a questionnaire. We look for specific expertise depending on the category, and are always looking to welcome new judges onto our panel. We have judges who have been coming since the beginning, and some who join us sporadically, depending on their own availability and inclination. Many judges are also, or have been, entrants into the Free From Awards.
Becoming a judge
If you’d like to be considered for a place in one of our judging sessions, please email us.
The Judging Process
Assigning judges to sessions
Once we have set the dates for each category judging session, we invite judges from our ever-increasing panel of professionals to join a session. It is critical that we match our judges to the category that best fits them personally, and take into account any food avoidances whether due to allergy, intolerance or preference.
When our judges are confirmed they will receive assets and copy to share on social media platforms in the run up to the judging sessions.
Judges will be sent details in advance including location, times and dates: we ask those using public transport to book as far in advance as possible to keep expenses to a minimum.
We will try provide an approximate time for the duration of the specific session; they can be anywhere from 1 hour to 5 hours. Sessions can sometimes overrun due to the often very difficult decisions being made. The varied perspectives brought to the table by the judges can engender some fantastic discussions and elicit very valuable insights!
What happens in the judging sessions?
There are between 4 – 6 judges, a chair and a scribe for each session.
Each category is judged ‘blind’: this means the judges have all the details of the products (as per your entry form) – except brand / supplier details. This means they have no idea who has made the product, whether a small or large company, small or well-established, nor do they see any identifying details that could potentially create a bias. We do not show the packaging until after the judging session has been completed.
The food is all prepared according to the directions on pack*, and the chefs report back to the judges on any anomaly in the instructions / preparation of the products. This is important because the Free From Awards are consumer-facing, so the products are all prepared as if by the free from consumer in their own home, except for products entered into the Foodservice category. Our chefs are experienced enough to know how to follow potentially complicated cooking instructions, as well as being familiar with food allergy requirements, and chosen because they represent the average free from consumer for whom are awards are created.
On the day
Judges will arrive on time at a venue in North London, close to public transport and with free car parking facilities where needed. They will be welcomed into a residential house and offered a drink of tea or coffee, and can get to know their fellow judges.
Once all judges have arrived, an introduction will be given for new judges, and to bring regular judges up to date on the latest developments in the Free From Awards and judging methods.
The prepared food and drink products are then presented to the judges. The judges are asked to first taste and consider quietly, writing down their insights and comments directly into our bespoke judging system. Once this has been done, each product is then discussed, with the scribe asking leading questions to capture the very best and most pertinent insights whilst the judges fire questions and challenges back and forth across the table. Judges are asked to make constructive comments, call out any flaws, suggest improvements and give feedback helpful to the manufacturers of each product. Every judging session is recorded.
Judges are given on average 5 -7 minutes with each product.
*Any leftover food samples are distributed to homeless shelters through City Harvest so that nothing is unnecessarily wasted.
What are the judges looking for?
The judges are looking for products that fill a gap in the free from market, that display an innovative use of ingredients, that remove unnecessary allergens, have clear labelling and display an awareness of the needs of the free from individual.
They are looking for both affordable staples for the everyday use, and premium products for special occasions, and everything in between.
The products are judged taking into account the information provided by the entrant on the entry form.
How do the judges assess a product?
Judges are asked to evaluate
- quality, based on appearance, aroma, texture, flavour, ingredients,
- usefulness – does it fulfil a really useful purpose for someone on a free from diet?
- cleverness – is it doing something which is really difficult to do in manufacturing terms?
- nutritional profile
- free from credentials – has it eliminated unnecessary allergens where possible?
- environmental credentials and sustainability of packaging
Judges take price into account when they judge products. However, they are aware of the cost of quality ingredients and product development. If a premium product uses especially quality ingredients or is new and innovative, they will not penalise it because it is expensive. Judges assess artisanal / handmade and factory-made entries separately and on their own merits; they are not directly compared.
How do the judges score products?
In addition to writing notes about each product tasted, judges are asked to give each product a mark out of ten. This score is then used as a guide when determining whether a product has achieved a medal or is a finalist.
Once all the products have been tasted, the judges are asked to decide the Gold, Silver and Bronze medal-winners, as well as the finalists.
Once they have made their choices, and only then, judges are shown the packaging for each product so that they can assess the design and the labelling for clarity and accuracy. They may then decide to alter their decisions about medal-winners or finalists if they feel that the product’s on-pack information merits a change.
On the last judging day all the category Gold medal-winners are judged a second time to choose the Food and Drink Products of the Year.
Judges’ comments provide valuable feedback to manufacturers, however, because of the large number of entries, we only give feedback on products on request.
After the Judging Sessions
Once the judging sessions are over, each judge is sent an overview of the category they judged, and asked for any further thoughts and feedback.
Judges are very welcome to share details of the sessions (we encourage this!), even to share details of products they have encountered and what they thought of them – but details of which brands have won which medals must be kept be confidential and not revealed until after the Awards Presentation Party has taken place.
Each judge can claim up to £80 in travel expenses – we ask where possible judges to keep these costs to a minimum. Expense claims must be submitted along with a travel receipt within 30 days of judging.
Every judge receives an invitation to our Awards Presentation Party, whether Virtual or Physical, and we encourage all judges to attend as this provides some of the very best networking opportunities in the sector.
Once a judge has attended a session, we may invite them to join our Development Insights Panel.
If you have a background and expertise in the UK free from food and drink sector, and would like to join our panel of judges, please contact us.
Provisional Judging Session Dates
Free From Christmas Awards 2022
10am September 26th – 5pm October 7th
Free From Food Awards 2023
March – April 2023