A Yorkshire online retail expert has taken a bite out of the growing gluten-free food market after her young niece was diagnosed with coeliac disease.
Initially launched as a blog to share her sister’s experiences of having a child with the condition, Carleen Booth has now taken Freya’s Gluten Free World to the next step by launching a gluten-free food shop.
The website is named after the Harrogate businesswoman’s niece, Freya Lehan, who lives in Colton and is a pupil at St Benedict’s Catholic Primary in Garforth, Leeds.
It was only after a teacher recognised her symptoms that she was specifically tested for coeliac disease.
Drawing on her two decades working for some of the best-known businesses in the UK – including O2, Mamas & Papas, Betty & Taylors of Harrogate and Fortnum & Mason as Head of Online & Digital, Carleen teamed up with Tanya McMullen, who headed up grocery buying at Fortnum’s, to create three different gluten-free boxes that can be purchased as one-offs or on monthly subscriptions; family staples, on-the-go and sweet treats.
Together as business partners, Tanya and Carleen have also sourced an expanding selection of premium gluten-free store-cupboard essentials for family cooking and baking.
Coeliac disease, which affects one in 100 people, is a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten.
Symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, mouth ulcers, fatigue and anaemia, and, once diagnosed, it is treated by following a gluten-free diet for life.
Carleen, who runs her business from Knaresborough Technology Park, said: “Only after several years of ill health and time off school was Freya finally diagnosed with coeliac disease, after a blood test strongly suggested she had the condition, and then genetic testing at Leeds General Infirmary confirmed the diagnosis.
“It was a life changing moment not only for her, but also her parents and her sister, as her diet had to completely change. Whereas Freya had been bloated, pale and lethargic, she is a different child and, like any other nine-year-old, is full of energy.
“The gluten-free market is worth approximately £500m a year in the UK, yet it’s not always easy to find specific gluten-free products, particularly for children. Because of my background, Freya asked if ‘Auntie Carleen’ could help, and I did.”
Carleen added: “My sister initially scoured the internet for advice, and whilst the majority were informative they were geared towards adults. There was nothing specifically for children.
“Freya’s Gluten Free World has developed from a blog where parents could share their experiences, to one that now has family friendly gluten-free recipes, handy articles relating to everyday situations such as eating out and safeguarding your kitchen to restaurant recommendations and now a gluten-free food shop.
“We now have a growing client base with customers located across the UK. Freya is the chief food tester and if it doesn’t pass the ‘Freya taste test’ we won’t stock it.
“Each box contains a personalised note to the recipient and is beautifully packaged. Initially Freya felt she was different, but not in a good way. Thanks to her involvement with the website she still knows she’s different – but in a good way, and that’s how we want all our customers to feel.”