With Coeliac Awareness Week (May 9 to 15) upon us, there’s no better time for licensees to think about the increasing popularity of gluten-free food and the opportunity it presents to the licensed trade.
As one in 100 people in the UK is thought to be affected by the condition – an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten – having a wide range of ‘free-from’ options can encourage customers to return time and time again, say foodservice firms.
Frankie Fox of The Foraging Fox – producer of 100% gluten-free natural condiments – said these dishes help to broaden an outlet’s appeal.
“For consumers with an allergy or intolerance, eating out can be a real pain,” said Fox. “Create a stress-free, comfortable experience for all your diners, and broaden your menu’s appeal by offering a selection of gluten-free options. Providing a reliable and inventive choice of freshly made free-from dishes is a guarantee to ensuring customer loyalty.”
But the growing demand for gluten-free products isn’t just coming from Coeliac sufferers. Many consumers see gluten-free as “a lifestyle choice – just like vegetarianism”, according to Tony Goodman, CEO of Yumsh Snacks, who said gluten-free food is very much “trending” right now.
Sandro Bevilacqua, vice chairman of Continental Quattro Stagioni (CQS), whose range includes gluten-free pasta and pizza bases, took a similar view.
Bevilacqua said there has been a big change in consumers’ dietary requirements, which operators “need to respond to”.
“The need to offer gluten-free dishes on a menu is perhaps one of the biggest changes after vegetarianism,” said Bevilacqua.
Goodman at Yumsh Snacks added that having the right range available is essential to capitalising on this growing sector.
“According to recent research by Mintel, only 1% of the UK population are diagnosed as coeliacs – yet 20% buy gluten-free products,” said Goodman. “And with the free-from category predicted to stay in growth for the foreseeable future – it is essential for bars, pubs and restaurants to meet this growing demand, and offer gluten-free solutions on their menus and bar snacks.”
When selecting which gluten-free food to offer, Bevilacqua said operators must take into account the potential audience they are catering for –ensuring to stock gluten-free versions of popular dishes.
Fox, of The Foraging Fox, noted that operators should make sure gluten-free condiments aren’t overlooked, as these will “complement your menu and make coeliac customers feel looked after”.
And Bevilacqua reminded licensees that they must also offer gluten-free dessert options.
But while a range of gluten-free options is important, operators also need to watch that they don’t overwhelm customers, according to Goodman.
“It is important that operators do not overwhelm their customers with too many gluten-free options, which can become confusing,” he said.
With the right range, however, he added that the biggest barrier to free-from products – “the perceived price premium” – can be broken down with competitively priced gluten-free options that benefit both operator and customer.