Our Equal Eats Equalizers series tells the story behind the incredible people creating a positive impact for the free from community. Today we are thrilled to profile Gayle Rigione from Allergy Force. This interview has been transcribed from July, 2022.
Hi everybody, it's Kyle Dine here from Equal Eats and welcome to another edition of our Equalizers series where we profile incredible people making a difference for the free from community and today I'm thrilled to be joined with Gayle Rigione from Allergy Force. Welcome Gayle, how are you today?
I'm great Kyle, thank you so much for having me on. I'm so glad to have a chance to chat with you and share a little bit more about our story.
Absolutely, I've had your app on my phone for quite a while now and there's so much to it. There's so much to unpack about it and I would love to get more info and get in depth for our audience, to get to know it a little bit more today. So thank you.
What's your personal connection to food allergy and our community?
Well, it's been a long journey. We've been part of the community for over 20 years now. My son was born in the late 90s and he was about two years old when he was diagnosed with food allergies. He'd had a lot of random episodes of sudden onset tummy bugs and we were mystified, and finally we connected dots and he was diagnosed with allergies to eggs, peanuts, soy, shrimp and all the tree nuts.
We were blown away, didn't quite know where to turn, but again, it was kind of the Dark Ages. It was the early 2000s, there weren't Facebook groups or a lot of resources out there so we muddled through. Eventually he challenged out of soy and he challenged out of shrimp, but in his teens he added on a couple more food allergies, but he lost a few too, so that was good news. But today he manages about five food allergies and he still has peanuts, he still has egg, anaphylactic to both and then he’s got a few random legumes. It's been a journey, but I have to say, we managed you know, we figured it out, it's been a good journey and we didn't really let it stop us from living our lives.
What gave you the initial idea for Allergy Force?
There was an aha moment and I'll share that in a moment. But there was also kind of this general sense of muddling through. I can say probably through a lot of the early journey I was never that much of a connector, but there wasn't much in the early 2000s to connect into, for help and advice.
We did take him to one of the top allergists who was very involved in research, cutting edge research. So we felt we got background information about what was ahead and what were perhaps some of the therapies that we could pursue. But we had a lot of pain points, things like going out to a restaurant, I mean, you know that so well. I mean in terms of the pain points and trying to you know, you get worried when you see that the server's eyes glaze over right as you're going through this really long list of allergens and you just hope and you pray that the kitchen can get a really basic meal you order right. Because, going out and traveling was a big part of our family dynamics.
Grocery shopping was really hard, always has been, we're still label readers, even things that you always buy, they're constantly changing the ingredients, so the whole label reading process was hard.
Trying to explain your allergies to others who might be making a meal or might be having your child over for a playdate was hard. I don't know about you, but we had about six epinephrine auto injectors going at any one time, six right! Then, when he was little, we had two with the nurse, two in my purse, two into his backpack or two with the babysitter, so they moved around, but those things were always expiring and not on the same schedule. And then we would always find out after the fact about FDA recall alerts on foods, or you go to the allergist, and "oh my gosh" I haven't seen you for 12 months, I don't remember all the specifics about all the reactions.
So a lot of pain points that we lived through, and we got through, but we felt in our hearts that it could be a lot easier. And so that was sort of a general theme. But the other piece of it, an aha moment that we had, we happened to be traveling, and we were in Italy, and we were walking to lunch, and we pulled this mangled copy of Italian translation of all those allergies, out of his backpack, and we were looking at it. It was smudged, we could hardly read it, and I was like, aaagh!, there has to be a better way! And then it was like, oh aha!!, what if it was on the phone? And so we started talking about that over lunch, and so that was just sort of the point where it crystallized, because it was just one more thing, right! We got through the lunch just fine, but that was the beginning, and we developed, it took us a year to get a prototype out, we had it in market by 2017, it was our minimum viable product. We did a lot of consumer customer reviews and input and so we re-launched last year in 2021 with a much upgraded product.
And I love that your user journey, of being a food allergy parent, is so similar to everybody else's, in that there's so many different, unique, overwhelming challenges along that journey from that initial diagnosis. And you hear it all the time, people saying we're not ready to travel, because I think they're just still getting their head around all of these other steps with labeling, of dining out domestically. There's so many challenges, which I assume leads to Allergy Force and what you created. I have it right here on my phone and it’s on the App Store.
Tell us all more about Allergy Force? What does it do? How can it help?
Our whole mission for the company is to make life easier and safer through technology and education. And so we have kind of two approaches to doing that. We have the website first, the website is very robust in terms of content. And so we feature a lot of engaging content that presents the facts, that does it in an engaging way, and I was really excited, we just got an award for the blog that's been live since last year. And so I was, we were thrilled, it was from the National Allergy Awards from MenuTrinfo. And so that was a big, big exciting thing for us, because we believe so much in the content and information sharing and education through that. And so that's one piece of our mission.
The other piece is the technology, and that's the app, and the app’s available on both app stores, so it's for Android and for Apple and when you download it, it requires you to put in your allergy profile. It can accommodate up to 24 different allergens, so it's pretty easy, we wanted to make it very easy, where you check something, or tap something, not a lot of like manual input, because it's actually an app that does something, and once you set up your profile, it drives many of the other features.
And the app is segregated into emergency features and everyday features, and most of the emergency features are free with the download. And those are things like an emergency calling feature, it's 911, so it's functional in the US and Canada, but we see it has great global potential too, but there's more tech behind the scenes work that has to be done. It gives you a way to contact your Emergency Contacts right away if you're having a reaction. It gives you a way to easily record the reaction symptoms and how you treated it, so you have a record, even with a photo that you can take to your allergist 12 months in the future when you next see him. It's got an ER finder, a hospital finder.
I think one of the key things is that it also has a Reaction Response Plan. And this was based on Mount Sinai's protocol or action plan. And what it does is, it's kind of like an allergy mom in your pocket, because you're really afraid when you're having a reaction, you don't think too clearly and you might forget what you need to do, you may not have your action plan folded up in your pocket. And so what it does is, it takes you through a little bit of a diagnostic like, do you have an itchy throat? You know, are you getting hyped? It actually allows you to pre-input or populate your doctor's own instructions in it so that you can pull it up really quickly. And then if you don't have any of those symptoms it will take you to a set of less severe symptoms and it'll kind of advise you what to do depending on what you tick off. And it will always pop up with your pre-populated doctor's comments or instructions first. And if you didn't do that, it still has what you know, some guidance on what you can do like, you know, inject, call 911, lay down, don't forget your inhaler, make sure you're okay with your asthma. So lots of robust features for emergencies.
And then everyday also, there's a whole suite of features from a barcode scanner, to a chef card that's digital. I mean, it's not your 50 languages and 500 allergens approach that Equal Eats does so beautifully, Kyle. But it's in your pocket and there if you're eating on the fly, and you just need to flash up something and oh my goodness, this restaurant speaks Spanish and I don't speak Spanish, here you go. So anyway, there’s that, the barcode scanner is a time saver. It's got a friends and family explanation. It's got a little reminder, it's geofence, so if you leave your home, it will pop up and say did you take your epinephrine? Do you have your EpiPens? In case you're forgetful, tells you when your epinephrine is expiring. So just a whole lot of functionality in one app.
I think of your app as the Swiss Army Knife for food allergy living. It just has so many different tools that help someone navigate so many different challenges. So kudos to you and your team for making it.
What is unique that really helps people with Allergy Force?
I think what makes it unique is the fact, is what you said, is the Swiss Army knife approach. There's, many great apps out there. I mean, there's apps for everything right and many of them do one thing or maybe a couple of things, but I think what makes this app particularly unique is that it brings it all together and wraps it up in a beautiful package. Right, so it's right there, it's like you've got your allergy mom walking you through every situation, like, oh time to replace my epinephrine. So it's particularly targeted for people who are newly diagnosed and trying to come up the learning curve, or for parents who've got kids going into the teen, tween team, where they're a little bit more independent. And so it's really a decision making tool, but I think it's a degree of integration, it's a lifestyle app, and we live a food allergic lifestyle and so I think that's what sets it apart.
It is incredible. It's really got all the features you could ever think of in an allergy management app. It's really really impressive.
Where can people learn more, connect, download the app?
Sure, visitors to the website it's www.allergyforce.com There, you can find the app, you can learn more about its features, you can explore some of our contents. There's a whole section on ‘meet the app’ that will take you into more level of detail than you ever really want to explore and how each particular feature works. So that's a great starting point. If you're curious, it's also at both the App Stores, so you could just search for Allergy Force App and it should pop up.
Follow @food_allergyforce on Instagram:
Gayle, it's been a pleasure talking to you and thank you for all that you do for our community. We know that it's not the biggest pond in the world to be in and the people who are in it, are doing it for passion, because they're, they feel that our cause needs more assistance and more resources and you have created one dynamo of a resource with Allergy Force. So on behalf of everyone in the allergy community, I just want to say thank you, because it's people like you that are truly making life equal and more accessible for so many people. So thanks for all that you do.
Well right back at you Kyle Dine with your adventure and Equal Eats because you're opening up the world to thousands and thousands of people who might not get to explore, so thank you.
We're all in this together. We're all in this together. So proud to call you a friend. And thank you for joining us today.
Hey, thank you for having me. All right, goodbye.