Free From Foods - good or bad for the hospitality industry?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2016
It’s a subject that raises more and more questions every day; from sugar free, to gluten free, there is now a rapidly growing market for foods that are clear of certain ingredients. Supermarkets have even begun dedicating departments to these specialist brands – and quite rightly to? The Staff Canteen takes a look at how this rise in new, evolutionary products is transforming the food industry. Colum - Rule of Crumb low resWhether you are intolerant to particular foods, or you simply don’t enjoy eating certain products, it is now easier than ever to take on a free from diet. Dairy free, gluten free, wheat free – the list goes on! Recent studies show that more than one in ten Brits have adapted to a gluten free lifestyle, yet only three in ten are aware of what foods actually contain gluten. Despite the obvious, pasta, potatoes and pizza, much of our population are uneducated as to what is contained in the foods they cannot digest. This links closely to coeliac disease and the ignorance of society towards this particular intolerance. 91% of people will claim to know what coeliac means, however they are not aware of any of the symptoms, or how to deal with it as a lifestyle. Being diagnosed as a coeliac means that you are unable to digest foods, following an adverse reaction to gluten. The human body is confused and often mistakes healthy tissue as an enemy. So the relationship between these two intolerances, raises a concern of how to accommodate for people that are restricted by this. Colum McLornan, Director at Rule of Crumb, a specialist gluten-free foods business, said: “Any quality restaurant or bistro is expected to offer gluten free items, but many don't even offer a bread roll. It is vital if they want to succeed, otherwise you are missing out on income from possible customers.” He went on to say: “I am for these foods, they are a must! With 1% of the U.K. population needing to eat gluten free foods, for example if they have coeliac disease, the catering industry cannot ignore these customers.” Dominic Teague, Executive Chef at the One Aldwych Hotel, explains how the luxury of eating out should not be a privilege for those who are digestively blessed. He said: "Products such as almond milk, gluten-free flours and coconut oil when used in the right context make wonderful substitutes. Taste shouldn’t be compromised because ingredients happen to be gluten-free or dairy-free." Yet, despite this, some chefs continue to show ignorance towards the issue.Dominic Teague - One Aldwych low res Chef and Director of Niche Food and Drink, Marc Warde, said: “Many chefs think it’s a fad or passing folly, but as a chef I disagree as for me it’s a necessity of life.  We offer food that coeliacs, gluten free and dairy intolerant people thought they couldn’t eat, but now they can.” An intolerance to dairy products is simply a result of the body not being able to handle the sugars and contents of cow’s milk. At first, it seems impossible to comprehend how dairy products can be removed from day-to-day life. However, a speck of dairy could account for days of pain and you will soon realise if you have consumed something that you shouldn’t have. But the main concern for the consumers in these situations, is the fear of missing out. Compromising classic foods that would never usually phase your gut is a considerable lifestyle change and something that can take an extensive amount of time to adjust to. However, compromising the food products shouldn’t mean that the taste is compromised too? Colum said: “Some foods do taste different due to the lack of wheat or gluten, but the more restaurants make an effort to provide free-from foods, the more people will choose to eat out.” The Truscott Arms in London have been providing selected free-from dishes for many years now. The Staff Canteen spoke to CEO, Andrew Fishwick, about whether his customers can tell a difference. “If it’s made well – there is no difference in taste at all! Our fish and chips have been made with gluten free flour and gluten free beer since the days we opened. It’s become famous, although 99% of our guests would be unaware that it was a ‘free-from’ food!” said Andrew. free from quoteAnd this is a similar situation for Dominic and his team at the One Aldwych Hotel in London. He said: "When we launched the new menu last summer, we didn’t tell guests for four months that the menu was entirely gluten-free and dairy-free. Nobody realised, which is the way it should be. When we told them they were pleasantly surprised, we have great feedback and lots of support." However, creating dishes that require certain ingredients, with specific tastes and textures, can be difficult to alter if the consumer is gluten or dairy intolerant. But, really it is the responsibility of the restaurant to accommodate for these needs, if they wish to continue the consumer. Marc continued: “I think as a food person I would say no restaurant could, or should, try to be all things to all people and it shouldn’t compromise the food at the cost of the dietary needs, but should give it consideration adapt where they can." “I think it’s essential that different diets are given consideration on menus now.  So many of the population have different dietary needs - gluten and dairy being biggies,” explained Marc. As with many modern day evolutions, the change is often needed and required in order to satisfy our ever-changing society. So the real question here is whether offering free-from foods is a necessary procedure for supermarkets and restaurants? And for many reasons, the answer to both is yes. Living with an intolerance is not often a choice, therefore there should not have to be a compromise for this. Over the last year, there have been a number of food conventions that have focused on promoting free-from foods. A Feast of Opportunity, held in Barcelona, showcased an array of new products designed to accommodate for those who require specific dietary needs.Niche Food and Drink 2 (Image by Matthew Burlem) low res While these foods are vital if we are aiming to cater for the specialist dietary movements, there can be the cost constraints of particular products. Free-from foods are often more expensive, due to the nature of their production. There needs to be assurance that cross-contamination has been eliminated, therefore adding the cost of strict handling procedures. But should it really be that much more expensive? Discussing the future of free-from foods, Marc explained: "I think they will get better and better and there will be more variety. With any luck, they will come down in price a bit too!" It is clear that the prospect of free-from foods is likely to take permanent residency in our shops and restaurants. And with the market developing in the way that it currently is, for many this can only be a step in the right direction, catering for the needs of all customers – regardless of the fortune of their digestive system. By Katie Mallalieu  
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2016

Free From Foods - good or bad for the hospitality industry?