Free to choose a range of dishes

Demand for free-from foods is on the rise, presenting operators with an opportunity

Gluten-free pizzas are among the dishes that are proving popular with consumers

AN increased consumer interest in health, as well as growing awareness of certain autoimmune conditions, such as Coeliac Disease (an intolerance to gluten), has prompted one of the defining trends in food over recent years – with a sizeable number of people now trying to cut various foodstuffs, such as gluten or lactose, out of their diets.

And the evidence suggests that operators who introduce more free-from choices to their menus can cash in on this growing market.

That was the message from food distributors, who told SLTN that operators’ menus must be in line with today’s trends.

Sandro Bevilacqua, vice chairman at importer and distributor Continental Quattro Stagioni (CQS), said: “The need to offer gluten-free dishes on a menu is perhaps one of the biggest changes since vegetarianism.

“Indeed, we are seeing consumers opt for gluten-free options not just because they need to but also because they want to; these people are actively seeking to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet.”

Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods, agreed, adding that, nowadays, diners with dietary requirements “not only expect there to be options on a menu that are suitable for their needs, they quite rightly expect that those options will be just as delicious as any other item that’s being served”.

A straightforward approach is best when it comes to introducing free-from food options, reckons Lauder.

“To avoid menu proliferation, and to keep it as simple as possible in the kitchen, offer items that will appeal to the maximum number of diners – so opt for gluten-free dishes that will also suit those avoiding dairy, as well as customers who are vegetarian and vegan, for example,” he said.

With Italian food perennially popular, Bevilacqua of CQS said: “For busy chefs, a good quality gluten-free pasta is crucial when preparing Italian dishes for their menus in a pub or bar environment.”

Plant-based dishes are another important consideration, according to Becky Hover of food wholesaler Brakes.

“Plant-based dishes are on the increase, with more and more customers wanting to personalise their meals and know exactly what is going into them,” said Hover.

Ultimately, not offering free-from food options on menus could cost operators customers, according to Lauder, who said: “The diners with dietary requirements in a group are very often the ones who determine where a party will eat, so it’s well worth ensuring that menus are suitable for those looking for free-from options.”