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Posted by on Sep 26, 2014 in Articles | 0 comments

Expanding Menu Options for All Customers

Expanding Menu Options for All Customers

Interest in healthy living continues to grow across various industries, but none are growing more quickly than food. Not only is the demand for healthier foods increasing, specialty foods that cater to unique diets are also gaining in popularity. New products released everyday boast the gluten-free and vegan labels in response to consumer demand for these foods. In our recent post, we looked at the surprising expansion of the gluten-free industry, which is growing rapidly and has the food companies rushing to catch up with demand.

But restaurants are also working hard to meet customer demand for healthy, allergen-friendly foods– and it’s a good bet. Adding menu items that are vegan and gluten-free meets the demands of many consumers that have special diets, but it also increases the options for diners looking for healthier options too– regardless of whether they are vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free.

The Huffington Post notes that only about 2.5 percent of the country identifies themselves as vegan, which is more than double the amount three years ago. The Gluten Free Institute says about 1 in 133 Americans (3 million) have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and 1 in 7 Americans (25 million) have related gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

One Green Planet explains that one study revealed that 33 percent of Americans are eating vegan/vegetarian meals more often, though they are not vegan or vegetarian. Something similar is happening for gluten-free foods too; although only a percentage of the population actually has a gluten intolerance, many people are choosing gluten-free items because they believe it’s better for their health. And that belief translates into strong sales for the gluten-free market. As CBS News notes,

“Americans will spend an estimated $7 billion this year on foods labeled gluten-free, according to the market research firm Mintel. But the best estimates are that more than half the consumers buying these products – perhaps way more than half – don’t have any clear-cut reaction to gluten. They buy gluten-free because they think it will help them lose weight, because they seem to feel better or because they mistakenly believe they are sensitive to gluten.”

Adding new menu items that cater to these special diets might seem like a daunting process, but the return on investment should more than make up for the changes. It seems that most restaurants think it’s worth the effort: US News & World Report notes that, “allergen-related claims like ‘gluten-free’ on restaurant menus have increased 200 percent, according to [market research].”

However, even more important than switching over the menu items is training the staff about these healthier items, gluten issues and what constitutes vegan cooking. Any time spent on team education is well worth the effort, as customers will be grateful for the healthy changes, but will respond very badly if the changes are not carried out effectively. Serving a vegan meat or dairy or serving someone with gluten intolerance a gluten item will create anger, frustration and in some cases, physical sickness!

Dieticians recommend that restaurants undergo training for the chefs, cooks and servers to ensure that gluten-free foods remain truly gluten free. “Cross-contamination is perhaps one of the biggest issues challenging restaurants’ ability to be truly gluten free. Restaurants without a thorough understanding of the disease may believe that simply adding gluten-free items to their menu makes them celiac friendly.” Serving foods that are certified gluten-free and vegan, and preparing them in a careful manner, is the only way to really offer these gluten-free, vegan options correctly.

But, getting it right with proper training, labeling on menus AND quality food will make all the training worthwhile. As quality, healthy dining options are still so limited, customers will help spread the word through social media like Yelp and the popular vegetarian restaurant resource Happy Cow. Life Foods offers a range of gluten-free, vegan menu items that compliment all menus, and our team of chefs and nutritionists offer server training and education for all new and ongoing foodservice accounts. Find our product list online here or contact us to learn more.

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