Needing to be aware of allergens is not something that should be new to operators but it is event more important with legislation being introduced in the next two years that could impact how pubs serve food, meaning licensees need to ensure they stay on the right side of the law.
Licensing solicitor Poppleston Allen says once ‘Natasha’s Law’ comes into force, businesses will be required to label all products, including those prepared and packaged on-site with a full ingredients list.
Recent coverage surrounding food allergens offers a reminder to all operators who serve food that allergies need to be taken seriously and that operators should ensure they have robust policies and procedures in place, and all staff are trained so customers can be fully advised before they order.
There are new allergen regulations expected to be in force in October 2021 and known as Natasha’s Law, following the tragic death of a teenager in 2016 due to an allergic reaction. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse ate a sandwich that contained sesame seeds, to which she was allergic, but the packaging did not list all the ingredients and allergens that the sandwich contained.
This is because, under current law, businesses only need to ensure prepacked food and drink prepared off-site is clearly labelled with an ingredients list. If it is prepared on-site for direct sale, operators only need to make sure that allergen information is given in writing – it does not need to be displayed on the packaging.
Delay to help sector
The Government delayed the implementation date of legislation in the hope that this will give businesses enough time to prepare for the change and here are three ways in which publicans can get ready:
First, staff should already be trained on allergens and communicating them to customers but, over the next two years, training should be enhanced to ensure there are no mistakes made when it comes to labelling in 2021.
Second, implementing new technology is costly, but ensuring systems are up to date will be important.
There may be apps or databases that can be used to assist in identifying ingredients.
And third, if customers with allergies can see pubs are ahead of the game with the rule changes, they may well have more confidence in their offer. There are more than 2m allergy sufferers across the country.
There will, no doubt, be further updates and advice as implementation comes closer – so watch this space.
Menus already in place
While the new legislation is important, one operator who caters for those with intolerances won’t be altering his pub’s menu.
Brendan Padfield, licensee of the Unruly Pig, Bromeswell, Suffolk, outlines how his pub serves customers who are dairy and/or gluten-free.
He says: “We are not changing. We have a gluten-free menu and a dairy free menu. We have a five-stage allergen procedure. Firstly, when booking online or by phone the customer is asked to declare any allergies, etc.
“Then, the front-of-house team then rechecks everyone when ordering. They repeat the order back to the table carefully stating all notified allergies.
“The front-of-house team has to confirm on the order ticket/EPoS system all allergens or conversely press the ‘no allergies’ button, ie, they have to confirm one way or another
“The kitchen is given an allergy sheet listing all customers who have notified us of allergies and that is constantly updated during the shift with any new notifications.
“Our menus do, of course, request customers to inform us of their allergens but it is surprising so many don’t until we specifically enquire as per the system above.”
Coping with difficulties
However, Padfield also explains how tricky it can make running a business, due to the rising number of diners with intolerances.
He adds: “It is exhausting because the number of customers with allergies is seriously growing. During one service, all but one of the tables at lunch had some sort of allergy.
“It is what it is but it can slow down service when things need checking and double checking.
“I witnessed a table of six diners recently, four had allergies. One of the customers told us she was gluten free.
On recheck and repeat of order she said ‘Oh I forgot to tell you I am also dairy-free’ so we had to immediately adapt the gluten-free menu.”
One pub has taken things to a higher level by only serving food that would be suitable for coeliac customers.
The Golden Cross in Coventry, Warwickshire, is a totally gluten free pub and won a gold award for Best Newcomer in the 2018 national Free-From Eating Out Awards. The pub has seen trade increase by almost a third (30%) since changing its approach.
Following feedback from coeliacs about the lack of choice available to them, the chef decided to take the whole food menu gluten-free. Star Pubs & Bars licensee Charlie Porter says: “There’s no pasta on the menu but other than that, it’s just a matter of swapping ingredients and buying bread from a specialist bakery, as getting that right is essential.
“Going gluten-free is easy to do, regular customers don’t notice the difference and coeliac sufferers travel from miles around.
“They are amazed they can pick anything on the menu and another bonus is there’s no cross-contamination in the kitchen.”
No signs of slowing
However, free-from dishes aren’t just a challenge for the UK – they are on a global scale now, according to McCain Foodservice Solutions commercial director Richard Jones.
He says: “The gluten and allergy-free market has seen a huge rise in recent years, with allergen awareness now firmly at the forefront for both operators and consumers.
“Whether it’s cases of intolerance, allergy or even lifestyle choice, the market growth is showing no signs of slowing down; according to recent research published by global research business MarketsandMarkets, free-from food is set to reach $6.47bn (about £5bn) worldwide by 2023.
“Following the introduction of Natasha’s Law, operators will be required to label all products sold on their premises with a full list of ingredients. When sourcing produce, it’s crucial for operators to work with trusted suppliers to ensure labelling is 100% accurate and all products are safe for consumption.”
Jones goes on to outline how pubs that cater for those with intolerances can help boost trade with the opportunities this brings.
He adds: “One of the most common allergies in the UK, it’s estimated that 1% of people live with coeliac disease and around one in 10 people now actively choose to avoid foods containing gluten, both at home and when eating out.
“Despite this, there is still plenty of opportunity for the UK market; Coeliac UK estimates operators lose out on £100m a year, just by failing to provide an adequate range of gluten-free options for customers.
“When it comes to providing a suitable solution for those with allergies, it’s worth remembering that people seeking free-from options will rarely be dining alone.
“Operators should be looking to satisfy both those that are intolerant or allergic, as well as the family and friends they’ll be dining with.”
Free-from is a large market that can not only pull in more punters but operators must stay on the right side of the law and need to ensure they are doing all they can to meet requirements.