Read the diet act

By Helen Gilbert

- Last updated on GMT

Dietary requirements: those who suffer allergies and intolerances will often lead the group
Dietary requirements: those who suffer allergies and intolerances will often lead the group
Allergies and intolerances have a huge bearing on individuals who suffer from them, but also on groups when eating out so, if you want to grab customers from rivals, consider those with more specific needs

The big 14

There are 14 known main allergens which, by law, have to be identified by caterers in their dishes. These are:

  • ­Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
  • Crustaceans, for example, prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
  • Celery (including celeriac)
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or10mg/l in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
  • Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
  • Molluscs, such as mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid

On Good Friday – outside the Prince of Wales in Reigate, Surrey – a pistachio- coloured mobile food van named Reggie created quite a buzz.

Vegan and gluten-free Columbian inspired savoury wa­ffles – think roasted red pepper and caramelised chutney – were among those served by Julia Jefferis, who co-founded Utter Wa­ffle with James Timmins last year.

The adventurous dishes couldn’t be more different to the jacket potatoes, burgers and ham & egg staples that feature on the pub’s traditional menu but the move is just one example of the measures alehouses are adopting to cater for people with special dietary requirements.

So why now?

There has been a seismic shift in the way people eat either through lifestyle choice – such as vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian – or dietary necessity as a result of food allergies and intolerances.

Market opens up

According to The Vegan Society, the number of people following a plant-based diet in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2018 from 150,000 to 600,000.

“Providing vegan options opens up the potential market not only to the 600,000 vegans in Britain, but also to 2m more vegetarians, the huge number of meat and dairy reducers, the lactose intolerant, and those who simply enjoy vegan food,” Dominika Piasecka, a spokeswoman for The Vegan Society tells­ The Morning Advertiser​.

“If a group of friends, including a vegan, are eating out, they will not dine at a place with no vegan options, so it really pays for pubs to be offering decent vegan food.”

Certainly, high street brands have been quick to respond to this trend and it’s benefitting their bottom line – Greggs reported a 9.6% surge in sales in the seven weeks to 16 February following the launch of its coveted vegan sausage roll.

However, Piasecka points out that while many pubs across the country have been brilliant at embracing veganism, some independent businesses “haven’t quite caught up and are missing out on sales.”


Untapped potential

A poll of 2,000 adults commissioned by The Meatless Farm Co in December 2018, found that more than 41% would consider a plant-based or meat alternative dish when dining out in a pub or restaurant over the next 12 months.

Interestingly, the findings also revealed that pubs had failed to win over consumers with their meat-free dishes – only 15% of consumers claimed that pubs offered the best options, compared to restaurants that came in at 50%.

The Meatless Farm Co CEO Rob Woodall argues that there is huge untapped potential for maximising sales as 42% of respondents said they would be inclined to choose a healthy option while eating out at a pub.

“Combine this with the fact that 47% of consumers believe that a meat-free dish is healthier than a meat dish, and 24% of consumers have reduced the number of times they eat out due to the lack of healthier options – that’s a big opportunity for operators,” he says.

Arguably, diversifying menus to cater for this demand is the easiest it’s ever been with food businesses, including the Meatless Farm Co, rising to the challenge.  It counts 400 pubs among the customers it supplies with gluten-free, nut-free, wheat-free and vegan-friendly products.

In March, food wholesaler Brakes unveiled two gluten-free vegan desserts in chocolate orange and blackcurrant flavours and, last month, Freaks of Nature announced its Chocolate Fudge and Sticky Toffee pre-frozen puddings, which are free from the top allergens (see The Big 14) would be distributed to caterers, hotels and restaurants for the first time.

VBites, the plant-based food manufacturer that supplies Greene King’s Hungry Horse brand, launched a vegan range last July featuring eight plant-based dishes, including fish and chips – made of fish-free ‘fish’ flakes.

Dodo options not endangered

Dodo Pub Company serves vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options across its four sites: the Bottle of Sauce (Cheltenham), the Rusty Bicycle (Oxford), the Rickety Press (Oxford) and the Up in Arms (Oxford). Dishes include Lean Not Beef – a £10 vegan burger of beetroot, mushroom and plants with vegan cheese, pickled red onions, tomato, lettuce, vegan mayo – and a £10 Mighty Veggie Breakfast – cheddar and leek fritters, avo’ smash, portobello mushroom, hash browns, San Francisco Sourdough and poached or fried eggs.

The menu is designed by executive chef Andy Holland, who trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School. “We bring out a new menu quarterly but have specials every month,” says Leo Johnson, founding member of Dodo Pub Co. “Some dishes have become so popular though, we get complaints if we don’t bring them back regularly.

“If we removed the Mushroom Man burger, there would be riots.”

Elsewhere, Mitchells & Butlers has significantly increased the number of vegetarian and vegan dishes across its brands. “We’ve addressed this at the likes of All Bar One, Harvester Vintage Inns and Toby Carvery by offering a three-course vegan menu,” a spokesman says. “We’ve also been innovating our menus to cater for these diets further, including serving the Moving Mountains plant-based burger at Harvester and by launching a fully vegan pub, the Greener Man, in Fitzrovia, London.”

For smaller operators, Piasecka points out that existing dishes can be ‘veganised’ by removing dairy and egg, while ingredients such as yoghurt, milk and cheese can be swapped for animal free alternatives.

A stir-fry, she adds, will be just as delicious with soy sauce instead of fish sauce; a curry with coconut milk instead of dairy; or ingredients fried in vegetable oil instead of animal fat.  Meanwhile, alternative mobile food trucks, like Utter Waffle, are also likely to appeal to the Millennial generation and provide an exciting way for pubs to test the market.

Allergens expertise

Timmins and Jefferis created the concept after being inspired by both the savoury waffles they’d tasted in Columbia. Timmins explains that Jefferis has personal experience of intolerances, while he spent six summers on the trot catering for professional tennis players at Wimbledon, many of whom were on special diets.

As well as waffle-making, Timmins says their expertise in the area of allergens has the added bonus of removing some of the stress for operators.

“Having worked in professional kitchens for over 10 years, we’ve got the knowledge and experience to make sure that we’re catering for people in a safe way,” he says. “We know exactly what’s going into our food. We know how to produce allergen sheets, we have health and safety training in terms of cross contamination and we have extensive public liability insurance. It takes some of that pressure off.”

This is vital because about 2m people in the UK are affected by food allergies. In 2017, the number of critically ill patients admitted to hospitals across England because of a reaction to food rose to 5,357 from 4,162 in 2015. And between 1995 and 2016, there was a fivefold increase in the number of peanut allergy sufferers.

Last year, the case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who tragically died in 2016 after eating a sesame seed-containing baguette from Pret A Manger attracted widespread coverage after the coroner concluded that the current legislation, which does not require the listing of ingredients on food packed and sold on-premises, was inadequate.


Educate all staff

This prompted a Government consultation, which closed last month, and looked into food labelling laws and possible legislation for pre-prepared foods which are made, packaged and sold in-store.

“Understandably, catering for people with allergies, particularly if they are life-threatening, can be very daunting.

“However, restaurant owners and catering staff should not be deterred from inviting people with food allergies to dine in their restaurants or cafés because, ultimately, the key to keeping people safe is knowledge,” says Leigh George, head of endorsements at Allergy UK.

“Understanding the importance of identifying allergens and the education of restaurant and catering staff about issues such as cross-contamination can help everyone to feel more prepared and better equipped when it comes to catering for those with food allergies.”

Under the European Food Information to Consumers Regulation (EU FIC), catering outlets are obliged to ensure that information on all of the top 14 allergens is available to customers with a food allergy.

As part of this regulation, food businesses must provide allergen information for the consumer for both prepacked and non-pre-packed food or drink, explains Emily Hampton, head of food policy at Coeliac UK, a charity that represents those who have coeliac disease, an auto-immune disorder caused by a reaction to gluten says.

“As gluten is listed as one of the main 14 allergens, it must be included in the allergen information provided to the customer,” she explains.

“For pubs selling food directly to customers, allergen information must be provided in writing either, for example, through a menu, chalkboard or in an information pack, or the customer should be prompted by a written notice that is clearly visible at the point of ordering to ask staff for allergen information.”

Under this regulation, food businesses must also handle and manage food allergens adequately and ensure they know what is in the food by recording allergen information in a written format, which must be kept up to date. Plenty of support is also available for pubs.

Responsibility with restaurants

Coeliac UK provides a selection of training courses and runs a gluten-free accreditation scheme for the catering industry, which has been completed by the likes of Wadworth (55 managed pubs), Miller & Carter and Browns.

Brunning & Price, which has 70 pubs throughout the UK, is on track to gain gluten-free accreditation in spring 2019.

Allergy UK also runs The Allergy Aware Scheme, which represent responsible catering outlets that have been independently audited and where staff have undergone detailed allergen management training.

It also helps provide consumers with confidence when eating out at food establishments that are recognised by Allergy UK.

“Nobody should die from a food allergy,” George concludes. “The restaurant industry has a responsibility to understand allergic disease and, as the prevalence of allergy continues to rise, they should be prepared to safely cater for anyone with food allergies.”

Related topics: Health & safety

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