The upcoming Free From/Functional Food Expo in Barcelona will be 20% larger than last year, with more than 270 exhibitors from Europe, Israel, North America and Korea showcasing their wares at the trade-only event on 8-9 June.
It's a reflection of the growing demand for healthier, cleaner food, for reasons ranging from the rising tide of food-implicated medical conditions to general wellbeing and ethical and environmental considerations. The shift is evident in the growing spotlight on raw food, organics, green smoothies, ancient grains, superfoods and gut-friendly fermented vegetables, as well as kefir and kombucha.
The free-from sector showed double-digit growth across Europe in 2016, making it "one of the most dynamic sectors in the food industryâ¦ with millennials (16 to 34-year-olds) driving the trend," says David Jago, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, and one of 50 conference speakers at the show. And while gluten-free continues to dominate, vegan, plant-based and refined sugar-free foods have also emerged as key trends.
Casual-dining chains All Bar One, Zizzi, Las Iguanas and the Handmade Burger Company have all increased the amount of vegan choices on their menus.
Fast-food chain Pret A Manger has launched 15 vegan and vegetarian options, and Leon unveiled a selection of free-from dishes, including a cashew-milk oat porridge topped with berry compote and nut butter, and a sweet potato, kale, okra and peanut butter stew.
Higher education caterers are also adapting to what Matt White, chair of the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO), calls "a seismic shift" in the eating habits of its trend-setting millennial customers - almost a third eat meat alternatives every day and 70% at least a few times a week. Manchester Metropolitan University, for instance, offers hot meal options for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets as standard, and has a gluten-free pasta bar.
To help members create on-trend menus, TUCO organises study tours, such as its 'Garnish for Good' trip, which includes visits to Koppert Cress, Rotterdam Food Market and Nature's Pride.
"The tour offers a unique insight into seed technology and how some of our most popular superfoods are perfected for ripeness on the day of delivery," says White.
Quality ingredients are the keystone of a healthy diet, so it is essential for operators to trumpet their health credentials. To help them get this message across, the Soil Association launched two independently verified schemes in January. Food For Life Served Here (a rebrand of its Catering Mark) highlights establishments that are working to improve their food with Red Tractor-assured meat, sustainable fish and freshly cooked food with no trans fats or controversial additives. It covers more than 1.6 million meals served in schools,
hospitals, workplaces, care homes, nurseries and, increasingly, venues.
The brand-new Organic Served Here mark addresses the visibility problem identified by Sascha Grierson of Perthshire meat supplier Hugh Grierson Organic: "More people than ever are eating organic, but it is availability, rather than price, which is the overriding obstacle to eating more of it."
The first two recipients - Edinburgh's award-winning Café St Honore (which offers local, seasonal produce and separate gluten-free and dairy-free menus) and the Red Roof Skye seasonal café on the Isle of Skye - hold three (of a potential five) stars denoting a 50%-75% organic content on their menus.
Colour theory The 'Rainbow Diet' (eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables) is also a top trend for 2017. Purple foods, such as aubergines, purple corn, acai berries and black rice (known as 'forbidden' rice), are rich in health-enhancing anthocyanins. However, it is nutrient dense 'superfoods' that are winning superstar status and there is an ever-expanding list of vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, spices and herbs both familiar and exotic (from turmeric to baobab fruit) to choose from.
Tina Manahai-Nahai, managing director of online superstore Healthy Supplies, has reported a 208% rise in sales of quinoa last year, along with a surging demand for raw cacao, matcha green tea and maca powder. Another rising star is the tiger nut, a chewy tuber, which is rich in minerals, vitamins and resistant starch that benefits gut health and blood sugar levels. With gut health now recognised as the cornerstone of overall health, Manahai-Nahai has also seen a
79% rise in sales of gut-friendly fermented foods, such as sourdough, pickled vegetables and sauerkraut. New start-up Minioti adds live probiotic cultures to its Stevia-sweetened, Jersey milk ice-creams, along with prebiotic inulin (from chicory root) that helps control blood sugar.
And 'cool' technology lies behind the world's first high-pressure-processed, good-for-you fruity soft drinks from premium juice supplier Coldpress. It uses a cold-pressure technique which, unlike heat-based pasteurised versions, preserves both taste and nutrients in its sparkling fruity waters and coconut waters flavoured with blood orange and mandarin and raspberry and lemon combinations.
Gluten be gone
Gluten-free - now as much a lifestyle choice as a medical necessity - has made such giant strides in quality that Paul Eason, chef and business development manager at Pidy UK, suggests caterers use products such as its award-winning sweet and neutral gluten-free pastry cases for all diners, thus reducing the cross-contamination risks of stocking two separate ranges.
Jago identifies on-the-go eating as an opportunity for growth, a sector addressed by two new instant pot brands. Quoats combines quinoa, oats and flaxseed (with coconut/raspberry and date/pecan flavours) while Nutripot's five snacks (ranging from Aromatic Thai Noodles to Quattro Formaggi Pasta) are fortified with half the recommended daily amount of 28 vitamins and minerals.
d if Manahai-Nahai's forecast, that edible insects (high in protein, minerals and good fats) are poised to migrate beyond the gym-goers and body-builders into the mainstream, we may soon be snacking on Grub's curried tempura grasshoppers or Crobar's cricket-powder energy bars with cacao or peanut.
The value of upping the nutritional appeal of menus is underlined by recent research by Nestlé Professional.
It found that 56% of casual diners were more likely to visit restaurants with healthy menu options and that 69% wanted to see more fresh and healthy choices.
How to offer food for all Sathiskumar Devadas, executive chef at the Marriott Breadsall Priory hotel in Derbyshire, is on a mission to offer an 'inclusive' menu that satisfies "multiple dietary requirements" - for instance, he always keeps gluten-free alternatives in stock.
"I am trying to prove that meat and dairy aren't the be-all and end-all of great
food. I am working on 'wowing' with vegan and vegetarian options and, so far, they are being well received by all. Pear and onion tart is one offering I already
provide and I have noticed a significant rise in meat and dairy eaters choosing vegan and vegetarian options, because these choices are becoming more exciting.
"My project at the moment is building a one-stop breakfast; one that is accessible for all dietary needs. The breakfast buffet is being split according to specialist diets, and options are being developed so that choices are not only safe to eat, but also delicious and filling, too. "As part of this, we are offering pancakes, waffles and speciality omelettes, as well as a selection of fresh fruit for vegetarian guests; other dishes for specialist diets can also be made on demand."
"It used to be perceived that anything with a salad or that was vegetarian was the healthy menu option," says former Michelin-starred chef John Wood.
"The days are gone when operators could just put a heart next to a dish on a menu to say it was healthy; customers are more intuitive now - they want to know why. Many are interested in the calorific and macronutrient breakdown of the menus or dishes."
His cloud-based F&B costing and management system Kitchen Cut provides this data at the click of a button, offering a full analysis of 11,687 different foods, factoring in cooking techniques and brands. "Being able to create recipes live in the kitchen and get accurate costings and allergen data is superb, and we are now developing our healthy menus for our spa and using the nutritional and calorific counts on the system," says John Ingram, resort executive chef at Farncombe Estate's Dormy House, Foxhill and the Fish.
"We can develop recipes and tweak them until they reach a target and make sure there are no 'reds' while also keeping calorific values down to an acceptable level."
Free From/Functional Food Expo www.freefromfoodexpo.com
Healthy Supplies www.healthysupplies.co.uk
Hugh Grierson Organic www.hughgrierson.co.uk
Kitchen Cut www.kitchencut.com
Koppert Cress http://greatbritain.koppertcress.com
Nutripot Nutrition http://nutripot.com
Pidy UK www.pidyuk.com
Soil Association www.soilassociation.org