Danika Woods is the daughter of the founders of the Just Love Food Company, the UK's first nut free cake supplier. The parent team were inspired to create their brand after finding out that Danika had a severe nut allergy. We caught up with her to find out how this all evolved into creating vegan cakes by 2021.
Do you remember being taken to hospital with severe eczema at just age three and do you recall how it felt to have this skin condition?
I don’t have any recollection of actually being in hospital with my eczema when I was at that age but I do recall how the skin condition made me feel. I have a lot of memories of being in pain as a child. I used to have to leave play group to be steroid creamed and I often had open wounds. There are specific parts of my childhood like applying sunscreen on holidays which stand out as being particularly painful, although I have to say, I was a very happy child. As I got older, I was often embarrassed and would try to hide my skin or avoid situations where it would be discussed. My perspective as an adult is that it’s impacted my body image quite dramatically, though I may not have known it at the time.
Your parents were informed that you had a nut allergy, so how did this effect you when you were growing up with regards to eating out and how you prepared things at home?
When I was originally diagnosed, less information was available. We were told to avoid all nuts so we did, including “may contain". Reading labels became a huge part of my parents life and we got used to what I could/couldn't eat. I have to give credit to my parents because they didn’t make me feel ‘different’ at all growing up. We did a lot of self catering holidays and only went to a handful of ’safe’ restaurants. Our house became a ’nut free’ space and the school set a ’nut free’ policy in place so we were able to control it well. I would say, I have only realised now as an adult, how much my allergy has impacted me. The single biggest thing being a fear of trying foods for the first time or eating something that doesn’t seem familiar to me. I would say I don’t have a great psychological relationship with food or my diet as a result.
While it manifested as eczema at the time, had you continued to eat nuts, what other physical problems might of occurred?
My eczema was already there before my diagnosis of a nut allergy. We were told I had a condition known as the atopic march that meant food allergies, asthma and hay fever were likely to follow on after my eczema as a pattern. My nut allergy is anaphylactic which means if I eat nuts, there is a chance I will go into shock and it can kill me so we have had no choice but to avoid them as well as any traces of nuts throughout my life.
How is your eczema now?
My eczema is certainly getting better with age but it hasn’t got anything to do with nuts being in/out of my diet. I was 3 when my nut allergy was diagnosed so nuts were never really a direct part of my diet and removing them didn’t impact my skin at all. My allergy is entirely separate to my eczema. As a young girl, I had to be steroid creamed three times a day and while the flare ups are far less and much more manageable, my eczema is something I am still managing.
Your mum and dad were then inspired to create nut free celebration cakes given the gap in the market, so were you chief taster in your house and how did you all manage before at children’s parties?
Yes, we all absolutely got involved. My younger brother is also severely allergic to nuts so my parents used to bring cakes home for us all the time when they started the business. At children’s parties, my mum would be at my side all the time and would keep me away from food I couldn’t eat. We would take the party bags home and she would take the birthday cake out, as well as anything that had a nut warning on, handing back what was left. Sometimes she would fill them back up with stuff from the house. Just Love Food Company was the first nut safe birthday cake to be sold in UK retailers so options were extremely limited when I was younger.
The brand then moved to being gluten and milk free too, so how important do you think it is that celebration cakes should be inclusive for people who suffer from certain allergies?
Oh it’s extremely important. My parents built Just Love Food Company on the personal experiences we faced being excluded as children. That doesn’t change whether you’re allergic to nuts or any other allergen. Not only should everyone be able to buy a birthday cake, they should be able to buy a cake that is just as good as everyone else’s. Our long term mission is to make sure everyone has the option of a great tasting cake.
In April 2019, you included eggs to your list of allergens that are absent from your cakes to make them vegan, so why did you feel that this was a necessary move at the time?
We’re built on allergy management and we understand the importance of being inclusive so creating a range of egg free products was the obvious next step for us as a brand. We came at it from an allergy standpoint but it was a necessary move for us because being inclusive in the food industry has to include anyone who is reading labels for whatever reason.
Have you had a positive response to your vegan line of cakes and please tell us about your new addition Archie!
Absolutely. We were being asked to bring out egg free cakes for a while and the demand was clearly there. The response was overwhelming and we have built up some amazing connections in the vegan community. We are passionate about reducing animal derivatives across our range so it’s been great to start building a name for ourselves in that space. Our new addition Archie is the bravest caterpillar in town! It’s such fun to be able to make a more inclusive version of the much loved classic cake. While the caterpillar wars gave us a great opportunity to announce the launch, a vegan caterpillar cake is something we have wanted to do for a while and it’s finally happening which is fantastic. Archie The Caterpillar cake is named after one of our customers who is severely allergic to nuts and eggs. His mum ‘Charlotte Murphy’ started the charity ‘Archies Allergies’ with a mission to raise awareness and prevent allergic reactions. It was a perfect way for us to honour Archie, the charity and all the amazing work they do. Archie The Caterpillar will be on sale from the 12th May on ’The Vegan Kind Supermarket’ website for £6.99.
What are your top tips for living nut free for someone who may suspect they have an allergy or have recently been diagnosed?
Firstly, anyone who may suspect they have a nut allergy should seek medical advice as soon as possible. My brother and I both had hospital supervised testing to clarify the extent of our allergies and what we were allergic to. As for top tips, don’t be embarrassed. I know it’s easier said than done but owning your allergy and being open about it could save your life. Yes, you have to control it, but don’t let it control you. Your allergy doesn’t define who you are. Secondly, everyone manages allergies differently. While I always recommend you follow medical advice and I am not qualified to tell people how to manage their allergies, there is more than one right way of doing things and finding what works for you will help. Always read the labels, you’ll be surprised at what ‘may contain’ nuts and finally, always carry your medication!
What is next for you and the brand?
We are on a journey to make the cake range even more inclusive. We are working towards removing more allergens and increasing the product range to include more flavours and concepts. We are excited to grow and provide even more people with inclusive, great tasting cakes!
As for me, I've actually started my own skincare brand, Exentrique that launched in September of last year. While working through my body image concerns and mental health that came as a result of having eczema, I decided to start an unproblematic skincare brand with a mission to challenge socially constructed beauty standards and create a safe space for people who are sick of feeling self conscious trying to obtain an unrealistic standard of beauty- www.exentrique.com.
After four cycles of IVF which was stressful in itself, having one of my twins struggle with eczema which caused him to scratch until he bled was heartbreaking and as a mum, all you want to do is take their discomfort and pain away. Being a qualified Pharmacist, I respect and understand the importance of medicines in our lives, however, I tried steroids (reluctantly) as well as well-known emollients and moisturisers. The steroids, although a solution I knew would be short-term for me, did provide temporary relief...
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