Sonia J Mason Blog

"A BIG CHANGE TO MY LIFE!"

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I always believed certain foods were the way forward to having a beautiful body as I got older.

My life since the age of thirteen had been spent battling weight issues and eating certain foods and drinking supermarket products to sustain my weight not realising that nutrition was an important issue with maintaining a healthy body and keeping it in good working order. There was even a period in my life where I suffered Bulimia but as I got older I realised that with fitness and eating certain foods I could keep my weight controlled and stopped binge eating and making myself sick.

 It seems that many companies lead you into a false world of what you could look like and what you should look like.

Years later….

My world had been turned upside down. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to dress up and go out. I felt that I had no control over what was happening with my body and I couldn’t even take my regular visits to my local gym to get fit and keep in shape as my body seemed to be changing in such a way, that I was not in control at all of my change in shape and size. After admitting defeat and not wanting to return to my Bulimia days, I stopped my daily visits to the gym and focused on what I truly needed to do to get not only my body back but my mental state to where I wanted it to be.

After visiting the doctor, for a few weeks I found that the pain that I was experiencing was not only becoming more painful but was affecting my performance at work with tiredness and loss of motivation with my daily routine. I decided to look into the symptoms that I was experiencing and rather than getting the ‘Easy quick tablet solution’ I endeavored to understand what was actually happening to my body and resolve the problem from the ‘Core’.

FODMAPS!

Where I found the link from is a slight phase in my life now as I have researched so much information on this ‘Un-familiar’ word, that the growth, meaning, power and understanding that certain foods can change a human machine in such a drastic way it brings me to the similarity of how a mechanical vehicle works.

Having spent half of my life working within the public sector and the catering industry selling and promoting goods that I did not know could have such a detrimental effect on the digestive system, from my research I have now learnt that there are many people out there as myself that are food intolerant and do not have easy access to certain types of food that others enjoy.

I have spent seven years working alongside food, health and safety regulations that meet Gluten Free requirements and normal every day ‘Food and Hygiene’ standards which then, I did not quite understand. Now I realise the real effects of food intolerance and the importance of cross contamination and certain food substances could actually have such an impact on an individual’s body and function.

A WEEKEND TEST WITH FOOD INTOLERANCE TO AN EVERYDAY FOOD EATER.

A few months ago, I decided that as it felt like I now have a new life, I asked my Boyfriend Steve if he wouild assist me in an experiment - to experience how painful and frustrating these life changing experiences are and he agreed. He was about to endeavor what would take him out of his comfort zone into another dimension to understand the way that a food intolerant person has to deal with everyday life and the massive change of having to follow a restricted menu.

We enter a supermarket… he’s starving. He walks to the chilled section and picks up a pasty. He can’t eat it. We move on to the crisp section. After quite some time we manage to find a brand of Plain Salted crisps that has ‘Free From’ ingredients.  We look through the jars of Curry for dinner and almost all have Onion or Garlic powder. Theres nothing in the Sandwich section as all contain Gluten.

Steve soon realises that the only thing he can snack on is Fruits, Some Cooked Meats, Some Vegetables and the limited Products in the 'Free From' Section. Now I won’t knock the larger supermarkets, as they do stock quite a few items which are edible to food intolerant people, however searching for the products takes time and as Steve found out, you cant just easily grab the snacks other people enjoy and from now on he would possibly have to carry specially prepared food with him everywhere - as most people with allergies and digestive disorders have found out.

Steve has now spent a whole weekend on this diet feeling totally frustrated that the foods he wants and craves for he can no longer buy in a supermarket, however with time, care and research he now understands that he can live having a similar diet- but with much healthier food.

Steve followed the diet for several weeks more and although he doesnt suffer with a digestive disorder or allergy he discovered that he felt better in himself and better inside - never feeling bloated after a meal and rarely suffering with gas - thankfully!

We are now looking into many the many avenues to start to creat and supply the best in Free From Food Products for a wide range of diets…

Sonia Mason 4/10/2015

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Changing the way we eat - but eating what we like to taste.

Due to advertising and point of sale lures, the way many Supermarkets are laid out with products these days appears very misleading and very manipulating. 

In many shops nationwide there is a ‘Gluten Free’ section, most which aren’t labelled for customers to find easily. For the Gluten intolerant Customer, it’s a case of asking a staff member or searching the whole store until they find the small ‘Free From’ section, usually to find an inadequate choice of basic foods.

Most unprocessed Products in supermarkets are Gluten Free of course, like Meat Vegetables Fruit etc, but as there are also many other allergies to consider, the customer is also left to read the labels on products to determine whether they are suitable for consumption for their particular intolerance.

After studying several large supermarket stores our research has also made us aware that many other products all over the stores are also 'Free from'  Gluten, Wheat, Dairy and Milk Free’ however this has meant spending hours searching through hundreds of products. For the food intolerant customer, walking into a food store is more often than not, very frustrating that ready to eat foods and prepared food products are not easily available.

After having to change my eating habits due to having digestive problems it has made it even more difficult for myself to enter food shops to find a prepared meal or product that is ready to eat. This gave me the incentive to research food products and the ingredients which then led me onto the idea of producing products that are made by myself and my partner. Steve. Slightly Different Foods has been Born.

We've been prototyping our products ideas at home based on my cravings and by following the constricts of the Low FODMAP list , Gluten Free, Wheat Free, Dairy Free and Soya Free diet and taking into consideration especially Onion And Garlic - our finished food products are not only allergen free for certain food intolerances but also help maintain a healthy balanced diet if eaten on a regular basis including with everyday foods we all love to eat.  It should be said however that every individual is different and a Nutritional Therapist or Dietitian should be consulted before starting any diet.

Sonia Mason 30/11/2015

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Slightly Different Foods is open for business!

8 months since the last Blog and so much has happened I don't know where to begin!

In November 2015 we found ourselves a home for our business. We already had the name 'Slightly Different Foods' from a catering business Sonia had started a few years ago but never quite got off the ground due to her being a single parent and the accompanying financial constraints, but the name was perfect.  It was situated in the beautiful Surrey countryside on Nutley Dean Farm that has a Lake, Ducks and Geese and a small business park at the rear with several other units.

 

Our Unit had previously been used by a chilled foods distribution company and had a good size kitchen, a chiller room, prep room  and large storage area. The unit was part of a larger unit that had been cut in half and both were now used for storage.  The electricity had been disconnected but the electrical points were still there and we knew it would now need to have its own supply. There was a gas system there that was dated and would need to be renewed, a large extraction fan with no canopy, a chiller unit that partly worked but didn't chill, but we had a working water supply and a large Stainless Steel double sink! We knew we had our work cut out, but we agreed to take it on as it seemed perfect for our needs. The Landlord gave us the first 2 months rent free and had the Electricity installed and then a friend rewired the unit and installed new power points and lights!

 

During the week, we would work at our day jobs and any spare moment was taken up with what we've come to know very well as the 'Creation Stage' of our 'Product Lifecycle'! It's a very lengthy process due to the complex nature of our products, we were aware when we started that there was possibly one or two other companies in the UK making this type of products and we found out  why! It seemed like an impossible task sometimes, but lucky Sonia has the mentality and focus of a Ferret. Once she got her teeth into it - she wouldn't let go! Things started to fall into place.

 

January arrived and it was time to pay the rent. We were offered a Chicken Rotisserie Oven and refrigerated prep cabinet which we bought, but we needed much more equipment and some of it was specialized and expensive.  Revamping the business unit was no small task either, everything had to be scrubbed, cleaned and sterilized, we needed new ceiling tiles and lights, new wall tiles and cracks filled and we decided to make the Chiller Room into an office as the Chiller unit was completely broken and unusable. Then Sonia was offered some office equipment for free by the council! A desk and chair and filing cabinets! This was all great. It seemed like we were being steered towards getting the business up and running and everything we needed we got... except more money.  The type of equipment we needed had to be brand new.. so that's what we bought.  Then Sonia stumbled across the Reigate and Banstead Council small business fund.

 

A month later, we were invited to a business lunch and afterwards  a meeting with the Economic Prosperity Programme Manager and Economic Development Councillor to show them our Business Plan, which took us a good month to put together. The meeting was harsh, they went to many details and asked many questions - but we had all the answers. We knew our business.

We walked away feeling they liked the idea  and we told them we wouldn't quit either way. A few days of nail-biting passed and then the call... They were going to help fund us! ! They saw that the most important piece of equipment we needed was a Blast Chiller and they bought it for us! It was ordered along with all the other major equipment we needed which was delivered a few weeks later.

 

The unit still wasn't quite finished and we had more product ideas. Sonia was very busy researching and putting the HACCP management plans together for each product, plus all the documentation and labelling requirements. Photographs were taken of each product and we were putting a Sales Package together. I had created this website a while back and was slowly putting it together, along with email addresses and a Facebook page. Then Sonia had the idea of creating a Low FODMAP sausage. Most sausages have onion or garlic in them and she had a recipe idea in  mind, but we needed to find someone to make it for us. After a week or so, Sonia found a company that were already making Gluten Free sausages and they were prepared to make a Sausage to our own recipe and the Sweet Quebec was born. We picked up 5 kilos the following week and they were amazing!! Everyone who tried them loved them and the feedback was astounding.... We got them analysed and the result was perfect. We had sent them along with our Blueberry and Strawberry and Kiwi and Banana Jams and they were all certified as Free From!!

 

One day in early June, Sonia was browsing the internet looking for food fairs where we could showcase our products and came across the Allergy + Free From Show at Olympia London. Phoning just to enquire whether we could possibly hand out leaflets on one of the days, Sonia got into a conversation with one of the organisers about our Business and Products.  He was very excited as he knew we were doing something that not  many other 'Free From' companies in the UK were doing and he persuaded us to take a Stand for the three days. With not much time to get everything together we contacted our Sausage Manufacturer and ordered 35 kilos of Sweet Quebec! Sonia made some of our Organic Kiwi and Banana Jam. We bought a table, Cooler box and Mutlipan Cookers and ordered Leaflets. It was all a bit rushed and the out-lay was mounting up, but we picked up our Sausages and headed off to the Show to build our stall.

 

The Show was a great success, we met the other companies doing Low Fodmap food products and made lots of contacts in the Allergy and Free From Community. We sampled our Sweet Quebec Sausage to many visitors and all were interested in our company and what we are doing, The unit is almost finished now and we have got our distribution network ready in its basic form. We are working on an online shop and our labelling and will be rolling out new products in the coming months. We will be selling and sampling at local Farmer's markets and have more Free From Food Fairs lined up too.

 

Steve Brunton

 

Slightly Different Foods is now live!  

31st July 2016

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Its seems we only Blog every 8 months, but we are still so busy!!

We are now an Award winning Company!!

As mentioned above we had a great response at The Allergy + Free From Show 2016 at Olympia, London. One of the great things that happened was that members of the Free From Food Awards came to visit us there as they had a stall. They tried our Sweet Quebec sausages and really enjoyed them. Weeks later contacted us to say they would like us to enter the Free From Food Awards 2017!!!

in October 2016, we attended the West Sussex Coeliac Group Gluten Free Fair  and sampled Sweet Quebec, which again was a great success!!

Steve delivered the samples to be judged in early January and we were entered into 2 categories - "Best Meat and Fish Ready Meal" and "Best Product from a Start Up of Small Producer".  During February and March 2017, we've had some great ideas for new products which we've been prototyping and Steve has been working on our Online Shop and Payment Processing while Sonia continued her endless research and arranging future shows and sales. In February 2017, we got the news that we had been shortlisted for both categories!! We were so excited!!

On the 28th of March 2017 we attended the Free From Food Awards 2017 at the Royal College of Physicians, Regents Park, London. It was a fantastic night and we chatted to many people for many great Free from companies, some who have been a great inspiration to us. Lucinda Bruce Gardyne founder of Genius Foods and David Shaw Genius Commercial Director chatted to us and gave us some great advice, along with '7 years to diagnosis' Bloggers Rachel & Mike Burkinshaw and John Burke Director of The Free From Food Awards Ireland. 

As the announcements came, we were there with the best of them, representatives from Tesco, Asda, Morrison's, Holland & Barrett, Doves Farm and many others. We were astounded when we won Bronze for "Best Product from a Start Up of Small Producer" let alone Silver for "Best Meat and Fish Ready Meal"!!!!!! These of course are great accolades for us and we are so proud,  thanks to Sonia's Free From/Low FODMAP recipe and our expert Sausage Maker!!

2nd April 2017

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AN INTERVIEW WITH STEVE & SONIA DIRECTORS OF SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FOODS

New Free From Food Business wins two awards in one evening!

 

Slightly Different Foods a new 'Free From' food company based in Norwood Hill, Horley, scooped 2 Bronze and Silver awards for their free from 'Sweet Quebec' sausage, at the Free From Food Awards 2017 on Tuesday evening at the Royal College of Physicians in Regents Park London, hosted by Awards Director Michelle Berridale - Johnson and TV Chef Anthony Worrell Thompson.  Directors Sonia Mason  and Steve Brunton said, " We are absolutely thrilled!! It took 2 years to research the products we wanted to create due to the labelling requirements and restrictions for producing allergen free food. To win 2 awards for our first product is so exciting!!"

 

Sonia and Steve started Slightly Different foods after Sonia was diagnosed with a stomach disorder in 2015. " I was suddenly restricted on the type of food I could eat and found when popping into local shops and supermarkets the food I wanted to eat wasn't readily available. Most free from foods still contain onion and garlic, So Steve and I prototyped many products after finding it very frustrating looking through and through labels looking at ingredients. I had the idea of the recipe for the sausage and after sampling  it at the Allergy + Free From Show at Olympia 2016, we got such amazing feedback, we were invited to enter the awards." said Sonia, who follows the Low FODMAP Diet after being diagnosed with IBS.

 

Sonia cannot eat foods that are known to ferment in the stomach, including onion and garlic - known as High FODMAPS.  She said," Every product we produce has to be created carefully using only Low FODMAP ingredients, then analysed for a nutritional breakdown and then certified as 'Allergen Free' to hold the Coeliac UK Crossed Grain Logo. We have found we are one of only 3 companies in the UK dedicated to producing Low FODMAP food as far as we are aware and the only one producing fresh and frozen products."  

 

Steve, Sonia's partner  added," We found our business unit in 2015 which was previously rented by a local chilled food distribution company and had been empty for some time - but the basics were there. It took a year for us to completely renovate it which we did ourselves at weekends and the only help we had was from a good friend who is an electrician. We were also given a grant by Reigate & Banstead Council to buy a special piece of equipment after pitching our business plan to them, which are very grateful for. The believed as we do that our company would be of a benefit to the community. Its been very hard as we both work during the week and have put every spare penny into the business, but winning the awards has made it all worthwhile."

 

Sonia has a background in catering, food sales and administration and Steve previous owned a Pizzeria and has a degree in Business and Information Management.

 

The Sweet Quebec Sausage is made to Sonia's recipe by an expert sausage maker with over 30 years experience using Prime Pork Shoulder and Belly, Smoked Bacon, Maple Syrup and a few spices. 100% Pure Canadian Maple Syrup is used to keep the product low in Fructose in addition to being allergen and FODMAP free.

 

Slightly Different Foods have many more products in the pipeline and will be showcasing some this year at Olympia and various shows across the south east. The Sweet Quebec Sausage is available for local delivery around the Gatwick area or mail delivery across the UK. Minimum delivery applies. There are several stockist in the Horsham area. See website for details.

 

Sonia and Steve can be contacted through their website: www.slightlydifferentfoods.co.uk or info@slightlydifferentfoods.co.uk

 

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