Wider options not free from admirers

As more people follow restricted diets, greater choice is required in venues


THE rise of free-from food and drink has been one of the biggest trends within hospitality in recent years.

And recent studies on the prevalence of such choices have confirmed its popularity.

So it makes sense for prudent operators to take a fresh look at how they can offer greater choice to the growing number of consumers looking to eliminate different foodstuffs, such as gluten and lactose, from their diets and stand out from their competitors in the process.

Sarah Wilkinson, head of food and brand at wholesaler Brakes, said: “According to market researcher Mintel, the free-from market was valued at £837 million last year, demonstrating 133% growth over the last five years.

“The market is attracting not only those with food allergies but also consumers looking to exclude certain ingredients from their diet.”

In the quest to provide better options, there are a number of traditional pub dishes that can be easily switched to gluten-free versions, according to Mark Teed, head of food at Star Pubs & Bars.

“It’s not hard to make most pub classics gluten-free,” he said.

“Curries can be thickened with chickpea flour or yoghurt – if dairy is not an issue – rather than a wheat-based starch.

“A mixed grill can be served with extra steak instead of sausage and a jacket potato rather than chips.

“Use corn tortillas or even lettuce leaf in place of wheat tortillas for wraps, burritos and enchiladas.”

Allergen awareness should be permanently embedded via training and good practice.

With veganism and vegetarianism growing in the UK, and national burger day approaching on August 22, Laurence Tottingham, development chef at supplier, Oliver Kay, part of the Bidfresh group, said: “It is really important to have a great vegan burger offering on a menu.”

Aside from providing better options, the success of such alternatives on pub menus can depend on how they are marketed in venues, reckons Teed of Star Pubs & Bars.

He said: “One of the most important parts of having a stand out free-from range is how you retail it.

“Descriptors such as gluten-free curry or vegan lasagne don’t sell a dish.

“Go to town on the ingredients and create detailed and appetising menu descriptors.

“Aim to make the dishes appeal not only to those with an intolerance but to every customer who fancies a change.”

The biggest category in the drinks industry affected by consumers eschewing gluten has been beer.

However, like food, it’s straightforward to provide profitable  gluten-free options, said Niall Deveney, marketing executive at Dunns Food and Drinks.

“If you have gluten-free foods but don’t follow up with a gluten-free drinks offer then there is something missing,” he said.

“It’s also a useful upsell and adds value, plus there is lots of options.”

Although many people may not be allergic to the ingredients they are avoiding, operators must ensure the highest standards are kept when it comes to allergen awareness in the on-trade for those who are.

Alex Smith-Falconer, business development manager at software provider at Access Hospitality, said: “With recent fatalities reported from adverse reactions to allergens, it’s brought home the reality that there is no room for complacency and operators must take the lead in safeguarding customer health.”

Deveney of Dunns agreed.

He said: “Any kind of incident could be devastating.

“Allergen awareness should be permanently embedded via training and good practice to maintain compliance.”