With Christmas planning in full swing, Gail Bridgeman, campaign controller at Bidfood, provides some tips on how best to cater for free-from dietary requirements during the busy festive period
The days of free-from foods being considered a passing trend are long gone. Now, free-from dishes and products are a core part of the food and drinks industry.
During the first three months of 2017 alone, more than half of the UK population
purchased a gluten-free item. That figure is continuing to grow, with research from Mintel forecasting that the free-from food market will increase to £673m by 2020, 43% higher than it was in 2015.
For the 45-and-under demographic, freefrom and clean eating in particular are very popular, with many consumers making gluten-free foods part of their lifestyle. In fact, one in four Brits avoids certain ingredients aspart of a lifestyle choice, compared with the one in five who has an allergy or intolerance.
However, as Christmas is traditionally a time of indulgence, operators will face the challenge of catering for this growing demand, while still capturing the ‘treat yourself' nature of the festive season.
At Christmas, consumers are looking for that extra-special touch and are willing to spend more for this experience. With this in mind, when it comes to gluten-free Christmas dishes, customers will be looking for something that goes beyond the usual menu options.
Five ways to create free-from menus
1 Communication is key If an establishment has no mention of gluten-free food on its menu, those seeking these food choices will go elsewhere. Simply having free-from options on the Christmas menu isn't enough. Operators need to promote their dishes and make it easy for consumers to find relevant allergen information.
2 Know the legislation According to EU law, to label food or drink gluten-free and suitable for coeliacs, a recipe must have no more than 20 parts per million of gluten, either through the substitution of or removal of ingredients containing gluten.
3 Avoid cross-contamination It can take only a single crumb of gluten to make a coeliac suffer, so crosscontamination needs to be avoided at all times. From storing ingredients and taking meals out to the customer, free-from dishes must be kept separate. Putting processes in place, such as prepping foods in distinct areas and using different utensils for free-from ingredients, are particularly important during the Christmas period when there are more large groups
and a shorter serving time.
4 Create a dedicated menu With a growing demand for gluten-free dishes, operators are having a lot of success with dedicated gluten-free menus. This will help to improve your reputation by being competitive, on-trend and demonstrating that you understand customer needs. It will also provide the
‘extra-special' touch that consumers are looking for. Bidfood's free-from products include its Premium Selection Brie and beetroot chutney tarts, and its Everyday Favourites baked winter cheesecake.
5 Consider serving gluten-free alcohol Most people enjoy a tipple of their favourite drink at Christmas, so why not consider adding gluten-free alcohol options to the bar, to show consumers that all their needs have been thought of. This also provides an added revenue stream. Gluten-free drinks include Bellfield Brewery's Lawless Village IPA, Bohemian Pilsner, and Chase Vodka in original, marmalade and rhubarb varieties.