The term “FreeFrom” has recently evolved from simply describing food which is suitable for people with allergies. It’s increasingly being used as a buzzword to let those with health, lifestyle and ethical concerns make an informed decision about what they do and do not eat. As hospitality professionals, it’s our job to ensure that we fully commit to catering for customers with a FreeFrom diet, whether due a medical condition or lifestyle choice. And I’m not just talking about following legislation and staying on the right side of the law, I mean really taking the time and effort to create imaginative, mouth-watering dishes that all customers can happily tuck into.
According to Allergy UK, around 45% per of the population of the UK has a food allergy or intolerance. For the people affected this is an inconvenience at best and life threatening at worse. Additionally, there are now over 500,000 vegans in the country, an enormous 360% increase in the past ten years. These statistics, along with the increasing number of people opting for healthier eating, passionate about the environment and concerned about ethical issues, creates a wonderful opportunity for us as caterers to reimagine our menus to increase the amount of multi-allergen-free dishes on offer.
This needn’t be as difficult as you may think. There are now many appealing gluten-free, diary-free and egg-free cakes available. Similarly, a typical lunch-time offering of soup, sandwiches and baked potatoes can be expanded to include flat bread, savoury tarts and pitta bread with exciting fillings such as gluten and dairy free mango chicken or goats cheese with a locally sourced chutney. Indeed, using suppliers from your community and wider region is a great way to support other SMEs, create a story around local specialities and cut down on food miles. In the long run, this approach may also help with Brexit-induced rising costs of imported ingredients. It also presents a fantastic opportunity to rely more heavily on seasonal and even organic produce.
However, understanding allergens can be a minefield. What’s the difference between dairy-free and lactose-free? How can you avoid cross-contamination in a small kitchen? What are the best options for a customer who requires a gluten and dairy free meal which is also halal? There’s a wealth of information on-line such as the Food Standards Agency and Allergy UK. You could join social media groups dedicated to people with allergens which helps you understand their complex dietary requirements, frustrations, requirements and recommendations. Follow bloggers like the Intolerant Gourmant and consider bringing in a consultant who knows their stuff.
And it’s not just food, you also need to consider drinks. The hot drinks market is expanding all the time as the variety of coffees and speciality teas continues to grow. Caterers need to ensure the types of milk we’re offering also increases, with people on a health kick looking for non-fat or low-fat options, and lactose-intolerant customers requiring soy, rice or almond varieties.
The key is to cater for everyone. Eating is one of life’s joys, and it should be as pleasurable and stress-free an experience as possible for everyone, regardless of special dietary requirements.
Contact Victus today to discuss how we can help you with allergen legislation. As food and beverage specialists, we can also help you source great ingredients and products to create delicious FreeFrom dishes to ensure a great dining experience for ALL your customers!