Things I learned at the Coeliac New Zealand AGM and conference

Coeliac New Zealand are a not for profit organisation. They do a lot of good work to ensure the health and well-being of the coeliac and gluten-free community. I’ve quoted their mission and vision below to give you an idea of what they’re all about:

“OUR VISION: People with coeliac disease are diagnosed quickly, live healthy lives and have the prospect of a cure.

OUR MISSION: Engage with Coeliac NZ members and stakeholders to support and improve the health and welfare of people with coeliac disease.”

If you’ve been following my page on Facebook you’ll know that last weekend my friend Helen and I attended the Coeliac New Zealand AGM and conference. Now I have to say that AGMs are definitely not my idea of fun generally, the ‘all who agree say aye’ malarkey is not my cup of tea (and you know how much I love tea). But the line up of speakers at the conference part of the event was too good an opportunity to miss out on. And to be fair, the AGM portion of the day was pretty quick and some of it was pretty interesting. One of these days I’ll learn to appreciate numbers and actually be able to comprehend a financial statement, but that day is yet to arrive …

For those who missed the day, here’s a brief summary of some of the things I learned at the conference:

Gluten free food trends

Jimmy Boswell aka The Gluten Free Chef took to the stage to talk about trends in gluten-free foods. Here are a few facts from Jimmy’s presentation:

  • 68% of gluten-free shoppers shop at three or more stores per month to try and find their foods*
  • 71% of gluten-free shoppers would prefer to get all their gluten-free food from the supermarket.*

Neither of those facts were particularly surprising, but confirmed that it can still be a bit of a mission sourcing safe food for us gluteys. And it’s kind of nice to know you’re not the only one travelling across town on a mission to find gluten-free noms.  Lucky for us, it’s way easier in 2015 to find gluten-free food than it was 15 years ago.

Check out my 2014 interview with Jimmy here.

Rototuna New World

Speaking of gluten-free shopping, Mark Gower and Michelle Mann from New World Rototuna did an awesome presentation on what they’re doing in-store to cater for gluteys.

In 2008 the store made the decision to “Become Waikato’s best supermarket retailer of gluten-free products within two years.” And boy have they lived up to this goal.

The store boasts a dedicated aisle of gluten-free foods that is full to over-flowing. Michelle, the store’s gluten-free champion said that the key to their success is “taking the time to listen to people.”

Go check out their range!

Phoenix Gluten Free

Maree Leeming from Phoenix Gluten Free spoke about the challenges of producing a quality allergy-free product for market.

Their range of gluten-free products (available for purchase online) cover the eight most common allergies. Listening to Maree talk made me realise the huge amount of work that goes into some of the products I’ve started taking for granted. The smallest things – like packaging and shelf-life require careful consideration and often there are trade-offs that have to be made to ensure consumer safety.

Dr Helen Evans, Head of Department and Consultant Paediatric Heptologist and Gastroenterologist (Starship Hospital)

Perhaps the most fascinating talk of the day came from Dr Helen Evans. Dr Evans spoke about research from Starship Hospital (sorry guys I can’t find a link to the research online).

One of the findings was that there has been a huge increase in diagnosis of coeliac disease at Starship:

  • In 1999-2002: 48 children were newly diagnosed with coeliac disease
  • In 2013-2014: 79 children were newly diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Interestingly, some ethnicities seem to be at higher risk of developing coeliac disease. The research from Starship shows a higher diagnosis rate in the European population than other ethnic groups, no Maori or Pacific Islanders diagnosed with the disease during the research period, and a huge increase in diagnosis in the Indian population.

Dr Evans also spoke about coeliac testing of at-risk groups. People who are considered at-risk of developing coeliac disease include those with a close relative with the disease, people with diabetes or other auto-immune disorders and people with downs syndrome. This group of people should be tested early for HLA genes  (over 99% of coeliacs have one of the genes or part of the genes) and if they show a positive result for the genes should then be tested intermittently over their lifetime to check for development of the disease. The challenge with coeliac disease is that it can develop at any age, so although you may test negative for the disease, you could still develop it later in life.


One of the biggest highlights of the conference for me was talking to other gluteys  – what a lovely community of people! It was great to talk to so many of you!

Another highlight of the day was hearing Coeliac New Zealand’s announcement – changes are afoot that mean life will become even better for gluteys in New Zealand. I can’t say anything further because it’s still on the down-low, but stay tuned for an announcement from Coeliac New Zealand later this year.

If you’re a glutey, I highly recommend you join Coeliac New Zealand and attend their AGM and conference next year! I’ll definitely be there. And also wow – thanks for the free goody bags at the door guys!

* Jimmy’s talk was based on the 2013 ‘understanding gluten-free shoppers’ survey’

Note: this blog post was not sponsored or endorsed by Coeliac New Zealand. These are my own words and opinions.

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