Publicans have reported an upsurge in the number of customers requiring dishes tailored to suit specific allergies, while there is “more interest than ever” in vegetarian food.
The demand for gluten-free options is particularly high with at least one in 100 people in the UK suffering from coeliac disease. This represents a £100m market according to Coeliac UK. “More and more people are being diagnosed with coeliac disease and in today’s difficult times, it’s a market the industry can’t afford to ignore,” said Phil Vickery, food ambassador of Coeliac UK.
Kevin Love, head chef at the Hinds Head, Bray, Berkshire, said: “Dietary requirements have gone through the roof — everyone seems to be allergic to everything. Dishes all take a lot of time and improvement before they go onto the menu and it can be difficult and time-consuming to adapt them for coeliacs and other allergies as well, such as salt or dairy intolerance.”
SA Brain has identified a similar trend at its Welsh and south-west pubs. “Gluten-free dishes are very much on the increase and we have done a lot of work on it because people demand it,” said head of food Jill Matthews. It will become mandatory to provide allergen information at some point, according to the British Hospitality Association.
“There is more interest than ever in veggie food as well,” said Matthews. “People want to see it on menus even if they don’t necessarily want to order it.
“Regarding calorie information we are currently trialling an under-500 calories section in two sites and I see that as the future. Two years ago we introduced poached eggs as well as fried and that was very popular as people know which is the healthier option. I think it is about giving people choices rather than ramming it down their throats. The people who read and act on the information are those already conscious of diet and health.”
A similar stance is taken by Orchid Group. An under-500 calorie Ellipse pizza range at its Pizza Kitchen & Bar brand has gone down well with customers so Free House Dining has just launched under-600 calorie dishes and The Living Room menus now highlight those under 500 calories.
“There is very little demand from our customers for this information on a blanket basis,” said head of food Sarah Thomas. “Research has shown that there is not a great deal of difference in customers choices. On balance I do not see the benefit of adding cost and complexity to an industry already burdened by legislation.”
Six months into full calorie labelling at Mitchells & Butlers’ Harvester brand calorie consumption per customer had dropped by just 25.