Regardless of your personal take on the gluten-free trend, it remains one of the most salient in foodservice today, more than half a decade after “gluten-free” joined the common vernacular. Consider this: At U.K. chain and independent pubs and restaurants tracked in Technomic’s MenuMonitor database, the number of entrées/mains described as “gluten-free” climbed more than 22% from Q1 2013 to Q1 2014.
Gluten-free continues to trend within manufactured foods, too. Food Manufacture reported earlier this month that the number of gluten-free food launches rose 17% in the U.K. from 2009 to 2013. Last fall, U.S.-based gluten-free foods specialist Udi’s launched a range of its products in hundreds of Tesco stores. And Starbucks U.K. and Costa Coffee have turned to British bakery Warburtons to supply gluten-free wraps for gluten-free sandwiches introduced this year.
The number of people in the U.K. diagnosed with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by a severe gluten reaction, increased fourfold from 1990 to 2011, a University of Nottingham study recently reported by the BBC found. (Better patient diagnosis rather than increased incidence of the disorder is credited with the spike.) And that doesn’t take into the large numbers of U.K. consumers who have not been diagnosed with coeliac disease but who avoid gluten at least occasionally out of the belief that the protein can cause bloating, gastrointestinal distress and other unpleasant symptoms. Whatever the coeliac diagnosis numbers, the audience for gluten-free foods is large, and U.K. restaurant and pub operators would do well to examine how they can better serve members of this vocal (and hungry) restaurant-going group.
Ensuring that foods prepared without gluten-containing ingredients don’t come into contact with those that do is one of the biggest challenges to gluten-free success for operators. The use of prepared/prepackaged foods and/or designated gluten-free prep stations can provide solutions here. Assuring customers that gluten-free items are as advertised is critical as well; Costa Coffee sought to win the confidence (and regular business) of gluten-free consumers by having its new Chicken & Basil Salad Wrap accredited by the Coeliac Society.
While early generations of gluten-free baked goods may have had a (deserved) reputation for being too dense or tasting like cardboard, newer products more closely replicate the original, gluten-rich versions—giving restaurant and pub operators more flexibility to offer gluten-free choices that actually satisfy on the taste front. And as gluten-free has marched to the mainstream, savvy operators have expanded their gluten-free repertoire beyond bunless burgers and plain grilled chicken breasts served with mixed vegetables. Here’s a look at several gluten-free offerings added to U.K. menus in Q1 2014, now tempting gluten-free and gluten-loving diners alike:
- Souffle Fiorentina, ASK: Golden cheese souffle served over spinach wilted with cream and fontal cheese
- Sweet Potato and Basil Falafels, Loungers: Available by the each or as a plate of three
- Butterbean and Chorizo Soup, Crussh: Gluten-free, dairy-free and low-fat
- Brazilian Chicken Stew, POD: Chicken breast and seasonal vegetables stewed in a fragrant, nutty sauce; served over low-glycemic-index rice with a crunchy side salad and freshly chopped coriander
- 16-Ounce Rump Steak, T.G.I. Friday’s: Aged 21 days, available with a choice of gluten-free sides
- Toby Fruit Crumble, Toby Carvery: Choice of Bramley Apple or Blackberry and Apple