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The growing trend for gluten-free beer

By Jessica Mason , 26-Jan-2016
Last updated on 28-Jan-2016 at 11:06 GMT2016-01-28T11:06:11Z

The growing trend for gluten-free beer

Gluten-free beer deserves space in your pub. Jessica Mason looks into the reasons why a once-considered niche option is now a viable trend

You’re meeting some mates in a pub.

The date has been orchestrated to bend around everyone’s complex calendar of work hours, family responsibilities and pay day cash flow.

Once the ideal day and time has been blocked out in the diary, the carefully orchestrated and well-planned ‘spontaneous’ catch-up beers then centre around a nearby train station whereby everyone can get there and get home with ease and what exists within walking distance where the beer is good.

It is then that someone pipes up with: “I should probably say, I have a gluten intolerance.”

Prior to a dinner party, flagging up if you’re a vegetarian, or allergic to various foods or pregnant has become the norm.

The supermarkets, now savvy to allergy sufferers, have also taken a considered approach with whole aisles of products suitable for coeliacs. But pubs and restaurants, although now readily displaying allergen information by law, are quite behind in terms of providing credible alternatives in their drinks range.

Those living with allergies are often pushed to give up on ordering a beer in social situations and not because there are no gluten-free beers available, but because very few venues offer them.

The cider and wine categories benefit from gluten avoiders. But the alienation customers can suffer by not being catered for can lead them to seek alternative venues.

That friend with the gluten intolerance will always get the deciding vote on where everyone drinks and dines, because, well, their needs are greater.  For this reason, you cannot afford to ignore the issue.

Gluten-free beer availability at your pub puts your venue on the radar as an ideal place to visit, whoever makes up the group of guests.
 
We know that giving people what they want is important to any pub business.

But, sometimes, considering what they don’t necessarily want is just as crucial.

Gluten-free beer has grown both in its creation, its distribution and in credibility lately. There is also much to learn about its inception into the craft beer scene.

“It’s not just about ‘curing’ an illness or disease any more. It’s about quality products,” says James Healey, UK sales manager, Estrella Damm, which owns the gluten-free beer brand Daura, “and it’s not just for coeliacs, but for everyone.”

Gluten-free beer is a thing. It really is.

So, what is gluten?

Strip it down to the basics. Gluten is a protein.

We find it in cereals like wheat, rye and barley.

For people with coeliac disease it is important to be able to identify which drinks can be safely consumed without causing issues. For people who are ‘gluten intolerant’ and suffer from fatigue or bloating via gluten it is not unsafe but can put a downer on socialising over a few pints.

Beer has historically been brewed with malt barley and, as such, has been problematic for people who find they can’t indulge simply because of the base ingredients. But it needn’t be the case.

There are ways to now make beer without barley and also there are ways to extract the gluten from it during brewing. It’s called ‘de-glutenisation’ and it’s a clever, but adds in an extra process, which can make gluten-free beers a bit more expensive than others. But it is possible and, much like our national re-education of how and why organic products are understandably that bit more expensive (due to the care and no nasties approach that is taken in their creation) gluten-free beer can be extremely good beer without compromise or side-effects.

 

 6 reasons why you should consider stocking gluten free beer

 

1) People with allergies & food and drink intolerances are the influencers for where groups of friends spend time eating and drinking

“Those with allergies or intolerances often are the deciding voice in where a party of drinkers or diners go, so it’s a part of the market pubs have realised they can’t ignore,” says Tom Stainer, head of communications CAMRA, pointing out that “those with dietary requirements or preferences are likely to increase and they are often the individual in a family or group of friends who dictates where they choose to eat and drink.” According to Stainer, “pubs will find they can increase business by catering to these requirements and ensuring they are very visible in doing so.”

David Ware, owner and director, Green Beers reckons that the majority of “successful pubs and restaurants are realising that if they create a gluten-free menu they’ll increase footfall and takings. Gluten avoiders heavily influence their friends and families and are vocal in their support for good outlets. These customers expect to be able to drink a great gluten free beer as well.”

One such operator, the Truscott Arms in London’s Maida Vale, has offered gluten-free options as a given. The pub’s reputation for great food and drink has always been its priority.

“There are many gluten free food and drinks blogs out there and they are a very loyal community. If you look after them they will come,” says Truscott Arms co-owner Andrew Fishwick who runs the cosy local in the capital with his wife Mary Jane and puts quality at the heart of his drinks listings.

“If it’s a great beer then there’s no need to put others off trying it by making it a ‘niche’ product. Our fish and chips has been gluten-free since the day we opened, but I bet 99% of our guests never realise - they just think it’s awesome.”

2) The gluten-free beer category is in growth, which makes it a big business opportunity

Gluten-free beer has evolved. Its no longer overlooked and is fast becoming something of a must stock.

“This has been driven by gluten-intolerants [which although only make up just] 3% of the population,” new Mintel research suggests that an estimated 15% of households now “pursue a gluten-free diet as a lifestyle choice as they believe this makes them feel better,” says Ware. “If you factor in that 31% of all households include at least one allergy or intolerance sufferer, we’re really only scratching the surface of a big opportunity,” he adds.

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson editor of Freefrom Matters recently noted “We’ve got 40% of people out there who may want to come into your pub, but can’t.”  Seems silly to ignore this.

3) People are seeking more clarity with ingredients than ever before & are more conscientious about health

Driven by demand, “food is very clear nowadays, more and more food-led outlets are doing the same with their beers, but many still don’t seem to, and hence are missing out on appealing to new customers,” says Healey.  

According to Ware, future growth for gluten-free beer will come from an ever-improving diagnosis rate, and also “a growing understanding of the health problems associated with gluten.”

Stainer at CAMRA agrees that “there is definitely more awareness amongst consumers and in recent years more people have chosen to take up different diets for health reasons.”

He also points out that, combined with legislation requiring more dietary information to be available, pubs have needed to respond to customer needs by not only providing better information, but ensuring they have a good choice of menu items and drinks to cater to these customers.

“As the nation becomes more health and diet conscious, the food and drink industries are likely to see an increased demand for Freefrom food including gluten-free beer. Gluten free beer may also become the bridge between beer and cider for many cider lovers as gluten-free beers are often described as having crisp and cider-like with fruity flavours,” he adds.

 

4) The nation is making steps forwards in terms of regulating all ingredients in response to demand

“The food information regulations that came in to force in December 2014 on labeling of allergens in both pre-packed and loose foods was a great move forward for those with food allergies and intolerances,” reminds Lindsey McManus, deputy CEO, Allergy UK. But, she adds “any of the 14 allergens that now have to be listed can be found in the most innocuous of foods, including beer.”

This is why identifying gluten-free beer options is becoming so fundamental.

If more people are looking to see what they can and can’t eat and drink and the information is now available, beer needs to stay relevant to that growing circuit of people before they drop it from their repertoire completely.

“Every CAMRA festival now has full allergen information available to customers for every single real ale on sale, which ensures that somebody with an intolerance to something like gluten or wheat can be sure the beer they are choosing is suitable for them to drink,” says CAMRA chief executive Tim Page, admitting: “I myself have a wheat intolerance and find it extremely difficult to get accurate information on whether a beer contains wheat or not, as it is often used in small amounts.”

This is something that both the beer and the pub industry need to get much better at understanding and considering.

5, Experimentation in food and drink establishes new trends

For every new change to lifestyle, a new drinking and dining trend emerges to meet demand.

For too long gluten-free items have been regarded as lesser versions of traditionally created foods. But, just as the raw materials we once used have become overly processed to create longer life products suitable for selling, our people’s digestive systems (which haven’t changed to be able to cope with this) have had to work harder to offset side effects.

As such, more and more as a nation we have re-established connections with ingredients and methods we can trust and understand. It is why the number of microbreweries grew and also why the craft beer revolution took hold. Craving ‘The Good Life’ was a revolt to being controlled by mass produced brands.

It made critics of us all and with that empowered us with being able to choose to not eat, drink and wear various items.

“We should look at the growing demand for craft beers, up 89%, as evidence of the desire among consumers for experimentation,” says Ware, adding that this has come from “consumers wanting to avoid gluten and also wanting to experiment with other healthier grains.” And, because of this, health and wellbeing has become a culinary trend in its own right.

This has also made it such big business that food and drinks brand owners purport health benefits and consider conscientious discernment in packaging as a number one factor in new product development.

Does your pub show its customers that it stocks items that answer their wants and needs? Can it offer guilt-free indulgence?

It’s something to consider.

6, Being gluten intolerant shouldn’t mean you can’t drink great tasting beer

This is the point that really does stand. Mostly, due to the fact that there are so many brilliant gluten-free beers available to try and see what would work best for your outlet.

“What is completely clear is that gluten has no benefit in terms of taste in beer and therefore there is definitely no reason not to consider gluten-free beers,” says Martin Vozar, operations director, CELIA lager.

Stainer advises that licensees “could display the gluten free beers on their specials board” and “give out tasters of the beers or do blind tasters to show people that gluten-free beer has the same quality in taste as real ale.”

“The taste of gluten-free beer is more than a match for conventional beer,” agrees Ware. “Gluten-free beers can now sit comfortably with other beers, indeed Green’s recently had the distinction of winning two Great Taste Awards in 2015 alongside beers produced from barley malt.”

Over at Suffolk-based St. Peter’s Brewery, managing director Colin Cordy implores how taste was paramount when they were planning to brew a gluten-free beer.

“We set ourselves the challenge to produce a beer which was every bit as good as our normal award winning range of ales and beers,” says Cordy, explaining that to give the beer its’ own character the team selected American grown Amarillo hops to give it a citrus and mandarin aroma. The resulting beer is clean and crisp with a Pilsner style lager finish.

“We have had many positive comments about ‘G-Free’ ranging from industry experts to consumers with coeliac disease including many who had previously given up hope of drinking beer again since being diagnosed,” says Cordy, proudly.

These are all forward steps.

Over at Adnams, head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald says that “brewing gluten-free beer is something we are looking at and there is a growing interest in gluten-free food and drink. There is already an option to make beers brewed with barley into ‘low gluten’ beers using an enzyme; however we are more interested in making a true gluten-free beer using raw materials that are naturally gluten-free.”

 

2 things to remember your customers care about…

 

1) The purported health benefits of various ingredients

“Whilst there is much research arguing that gluten may have no harmful effects for many people, there is no research saying it is good for you and that you should consume it,” says Vozar, explaining how “the industry has shown us that people from all walks of life, whether diagnosed coeliac or not, state that they feel much better when avoiding gluten with experiences such as reduced bloating and fatigue levels.”

CELIA is created by “removing the gluten” but is also brewed “with all natural carbonation that seeks to remove the two key causes of bloating, even for someone who is not gluten intolerant.”

But nobody really ever wanted to talk about bloating or why the bubbles and [sometimes gluten] could play a part.

Now, by understanding it and re-educating people, the category could certainly be broadened to become more appealing to women who have oft complained of bloating.

Sarah Merson, natural health specialist for the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) points out that “in the case of fluid retention, an offending food appears to affect the body by increasing the permeability of the capillaries (fine blood vessels), which means that extra water flows into the cells.”

In her recent report for ION, Merson cited Antoinette Savill and Dr Dawn Hamilton who co-authored the book ‘Lose Wheat, Lose Weight’ as stating that “abdominal bloating might be a symptom of fluid retention, or it could be a sign that the digestive system is not dealing particularly well with a specific food.”

Ware points out that “there is evidence that gluten-free beer reduces bloating” and many of Green’s naturally gluten-free beers are brewed using ingredients with known health benefits such as including: “sorghum and millet which have high trace elements such as zinc (triple that of barley) and selenium (twice of barley). They are high in proteins and rich in Vitamin B, especially niacin, B6 and folacin and rich in Calcium (50% more than conventional beers).

Plus, says Ware, “buckwheat is a unique pseudo-cereal containing high amounts of bio-active compounds; high in rutine which strengthens the blood vessels, high in fagopyrins which decreases blood cholesterol and is high in protein with high biological value.” According to Ware, “the choice of such cereals in beer production is not only for those gluten-intolerant but also a wonderful basic nutrient blend for the real beer drinker.”

This continues to be a real selling point for pubs looking to show it has a range that considers socialising is about enjoyment and not just while a drink it being consumed, but how it makes a person feel afterwards. People will return if you make them feel good without feeling bad. They will chase that feeling.

Vozar identifies that natural carbonation is “lighter” and easier on people’s systems instead of the bloating some can experience from “artificially carbonated beers” too.

Indeed, there are lots of brewing lessons here. We need to consider selection not just based on flavour, but also construction of a beer and the effects.

We need to show we are a conscientious industry and not just through responsible drinking habits, but with responsible brewing and responsible stocking decisions.

 

2) Mass production vs simplicity of local craft & the difference in ingredients sourcing

 

If we ignore that happened with the explosion of interest in smaller local craft brews and the desire for tracability and good, honest ingredients, we are taking backward steps in growing business.

The hospitality industry needs to be armed with good explanations about ingredients and positive reasons to champion the culture of going out over staying in. If it doesn’t, it shouts loud and clear that it is not interested in understanding why people are making different or interesting and new food and drink choices in the first place.

Merson, at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition [ION] reminds how the quality of the ingredients we use is crucial, but reminds that we need to start speaking up about the merits of some over others.

“Mass food production has meant that our diet has become highly processed and contaminated with chemicals and, in the case of wheat, bears little resemblance to what our great-grandmothers used when baking their daily loaf. All of these factors lead to our inability to digest food properly and result in a blocked digestive system.”

If we use products that have a positive effect on people’s vitality, we really do need to talk about them and, any business that markets its range as well-considered for all needs take a look at all of the good reasons behind listing gluten-free beer options.

 

Okay, I get it. So, where do I start?

 

Show you are a discerning operator

That means start asking if there are any available and consider hosting a tasting in your pub.

Whether you are tied on beer or not, the journey must begin somewhere. Ask your sales repos or just keep your eyes open for the different options.

“At the Truscott Arms the beers have been chosen with thought and care,” says Fishwick, reminding that “as an independent pub we have made our list exciting and original by sourcing and handpicking everything on our list. We work with small, independent brewers as well as more established operations. Our list is constantly changing as many of the beers we offer are seasonal and produced in small batches.”

Fishwick explains that the Truscott Arms has built something of a reputation for catering to our gluten free clientele.

“When we opened the pub in 2013 Mary Jane (my wife) and I wanted to think about this aspect of the market - our eldest daughter is coeliac (as our other members of MJ’s family) so we were aware of how simple it would be to incorporate great gluten-free dishes and beers into our offer.”

Other operators needn’t be afraid to consider doing the same.

Once I have gluten-free beers in stock, what do I do then?

 

Create awareness of your range through excellent marketing. Here is how:

Get in contact with Coeliac UK which has a gluten-free catering accreditation scheme and find out how you can begin to use the Coeliac UK’s gluten-free symbol on menus and in the windows of your venue.

Using the symbol on your food and drink menus will tell your customers that the dish is gluten-free according to the law and that the caterer meets all requirements of the gluten-free standard which covers all aspects of gluten-free preparation and ensures training is in place.

This would be incredibly useful to begin with as a starting point.

Once a well-known gluten-free brand is stocked, it’s then crucial to make customers aware; for example Pizza Express clearly flag up their gluten-free offering, Green’s Pilsner, alongside its other two Peroni brands, on their menus, with appropriate tasting notes.

Find out if the brand owner offers a range of POS to support awareness that gluten-free beer is stocked and also if there is the option for further social media support or to get involved with any events to ensure you’re putting your pub on the map for people.

Engage with local coeliac groups to help spread the word and gain loyal customers and consider more prominent fridge positions because “those seeking a gluten-free alternatives often do not look hard at the fridges or ask in pubs as the expectation is they will be disappointed and so settle for wine or cider for ease,” says Vozar. Hinting that “attention is paid however to the menu where it is best to simply put a little GF by the brand description, those seeking a GF option will spot these but other consumers will focus on the other information such as brand origin and style.”

Stainer from CAMRA says you will need to “ensure staff have training in what is available and have tasted the gluten-free beers so they can talk about them knowledgably. Make gluten-free options part of wider drinks promotions, so those who drink them don’t always feel left out. Consider bar/pump toppers or material on fridges to really highlight gluten-free options. Consider a gluten-free tasting evening to promote your food and drink options. Get in touch with local groups associated with allergen or intolerance and encourage them to visit and promote the fact you’re making an effort.”

Don’t get left behind on the trend

 

There is no doubt that the trend for a growing range of gluten-free beers will continue to flourish, so the question is no longer whether it deserves your consideration, but how you can incorporate it at your venue.

“Price-parity with the ‘mainstream’ will be the challenge. (considering the additional brewing costs), but the future of gluten-free beer is growth and choice.” reminds Healey.

Vozar says that the only reason the category has not grown as rapidly as it might have done is not because there is not a demand for it, but due to the on-trade’s lack of understanding and dialogue with its customers to show that it caters for those who are gluten-intolerant.

“Currently the limited awareness of consumers with regards to gluten-free beers, even those seeking a gluten-free option, is the main reason why the category has not grown as much as other gluten-free products” but that “once gluten tolerant and gluten intolerant consumers learn through trial and education that gluten-free beers can offer a better experience, the category can become mainstream. This is coming soon in the UK and is already happening in the US.”

Can you afford to neglect the trend?

“Mate, what’s the name of that pub you can drink the beer in?”

[Friend names several pubs in the vicinity]

If your place isn’t named, you just did yourself out of some business.

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