This week has been jam packed with FreeFrom excitement and as if the FreeFrom Awards evening wasn’t enough on Wednesday 22nd April, I hot footed it to Chester on Thursday 23rd April to celebrate with Holland and Barrett who are opening their first concept store.
The new stores are called Holland & Barrett More and if the one in Chester is anything to go by they are offering so much more than any health food store I’ve ever been in.
Why we need more inspiring health food shops
I have always been a little sad in health food shops. There are some lovely independent stores which do stock local organic produce and fresh freefrom goods. Many who understand what the freefrom community want and fill their shelves with more interesting products.
But sadly the vast majority of health food shops have been dark, gloomy, depressing places. Shelves and shelves of protein shakes and huge tubs of powdered stuff for body builders. Then the rows and rows of supplements that are confusing for even the most hardened vitamin and mineral connoisseur like myself.
Walk into the new Holland and Barrett More store in Chester though and it’s a whole different story. I was like a kid in sweetie shop. It was light, bright, funky and HUGE! It is the biggest health food shop I’ve EVER seen. The new format store in Chester is 5,490 sq ft which provides a lot of space for great freefrom food.
It still has the supplements, powders, protein and whey for those who need them but these are now near the back of the shop making it far less intimidating.
I found Pudology chocolate puddings and bought one for my lunch and there were loads of new products I hadn’t seen before as well as lot of my favourites. You can check out the whole range of freefrom goodies at Holland and Barrett More stores and filter with the major 14 allergens.
There was some fresh organic local vegetables, a juice bar and snack station where you could buy gluten free wraps and lite bites for lunch. The skin care was a particular highlight for me since having eczema does limit what you can use on your skin. There was a colourful bath bomb station where you could mix your own with different natural oils and ingredients. I discovered some new natural makeup called Beautiful Movements which looked very interesting so more on that soon.
There was a whole aisle of chilled cabinets with loads of products for the freezer and some interesting new dairy free cheeses from Violife which are dairy and soya free that I’ve not tried before which are made from coconut oil.
Not to mention the snack bars, chocolate and cakes which had a large section and were laid our very temptingly. I found some LoveMore Rich Genoa Cake which caught my eye. Watch out for more on that in a later blog post too.
Why I love the new Holland and Barrett More store
These amazing new innovative and exciting new Holland and Barrett More stores could really change things for those living with coeliac disease and allergies and especially those newly diagnosed. I remember the day my dairy and wheat allergy were diagnosed. After going through our larder and cupboards I sat on the peeling lino in tears with a packet of rice cakes in my lap.
My world, a world full of ready meals, pot noodles and junk food was crumbling around me and I had no idea what to do next. It took me many years of awful disasters in the kitchen to learn how to make healthy, fresh and tasty meals but I got there. If there had been a Holland and Barrett More store back then I could have spent many happy hours trawling the shelves looking for tasty things to replace the lost staples.
One good thing came out of developing allergies for me – my awful diet was revolutionised and I am bit of a foodie now. The body is a freefrom temple and all that.
It was a real privilege to be invited and I am looking forward to working with Holland and Barrett over the coming months. Watch out for some blog posts soon.
But this store is in Chester. I don’t live in Chester or anywhere even remotely near! Much as I loved the store I’m mighty jealous of people who can pop into this store when they’re passing. I want to live there! I loved the city and would definitely like to visit again soon. You will be please to hear that Holland and Barrett plan to roll out these new stores in 50 other locations by the end of the year so there should be some down south soon.
They have also revamped their website to include allergen filtering so you can buy all their new range of extended freefrom products online for delivery to your local store or home. Check the link above and go shopping online today.
The best bit by far of the whole evening was seeing some friendly faces amongst the other guests with whom to ohhh and ahhh and exclaim. We were impressed. We were all VERY impressed.
I met Lyndsey McManus of AllergyUK who have teamed up with Holland and Barrett and attended the ribbon cutting at the shop when it opened that morning and we both trotted down the red carpet together.
I also met Peter Aldis CEO of Holland and Barrett who was so passionate about their plans to revolutionise how they view Free From. He was friendly and funny and not like a CEO at all. I was impressed that he made time to speak to everyone there and even the humble bloggers like myself. Thank you Peter – I can assure you all that Peter Aldis ‘gets freefrom’ and his vision is for even more than the planned 50 stores and he wants them to be even bigger than the one in Chester. Go Peter! Bring it on.
Emma Cockerill, Holland & Barrett’s Sales and Procurement Director was instrumental in driving the new format More stores. Since her young baby was diagnosed with anaphylaxis she is passionate about providing somewhere inviting, special and inspiring for people living with life threatening allergies. She said: “Our goal at Holland & Barrett is not only to ensure that everyone around the country has quick and easy access to a wide range of Free From food, but as a leading health food retailer, we also see it as our duty to support the allergy and intolerance community and make sure they have access to as much resource as they need.”
We had a long chat about how we both coped and what it was like living with a life threatening allergy but what we both agreed on was that food should be enjoyed for everyone. These new Holland and Barrett More stores will bring some fun and enjoyment back into shopping for freefrom foods.
It should also save people a lot of time. In any given week I can be visiting 5-10 online websites to buy the freefrom products I rely on and that takes planning and motivation. That is not including the local shops I do for fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. This means that a lot of the time I just don’t buy some of my favourite products because I’m too busy. I have a hectic work life and travel quite a lot so finding time to trawl umpteen online shops is both wearing and sometimes impossible to manage. This means not only that I miss out on some more interesting food but also my favourite independent freefom manufacturers aren’t getting my business! A lose, lose situation. I say bring on the roll out of Holland and Barrett’s new More Stores – it really could become a one-stop-shop for freefrom shoppers. I can’t wait!
Oh and I got roped into being videoed so watch out for me waffling on about how excited I am about these new stores. I have no idea what I said and kind of wish they found me before the two glasses of prosecco!
Are you excited about these new stores? Where do you think they should open their next one? I’ll give Peter Aldis a call and arrange it for you all. Yeah I wish! But we can dream on. You never know, I might just be able to wave my What Allergy Wand and get one open near you and me and you and you and all of you! Everyone deserves a Holland and Barrett More store in their town or city.