Health & Safety
Cornering the gluten-free market
By Lindsey Yeakle, Gluten Intolerance Group
By Lindsey Yeakle, Gluten Intolerance Group
Are you considering adding gluten-free pizza to your menu? Already offering gluten alternatives but wondering if you’re serving everything correctly? If a diner with celiac disease sent a salad with croutons back to the kitchen, would your staff know what to do? Questions like these are common for restaurants who want in on the growing gluten-free market but aren’t sure how to safely prepare and serve dishes without gluten.
Offering gluten-free menu items is particularly appealing for pizzerias who must adapt to changing tastes. While volume and dollar sales of pizza have declined in recent years in Canada, demand for gluten-free pizza is rising thanks to increased diagnoses of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and a desire for healthier options, particularly among millennial professionals, young mothers, and college students. According to a report by Grand View Research, Inc. the international gluten-free pizza crust market size is anticipated to reach $3.1 billion US by 2025.
To accommodate growing demand, pizzerias are rolling out no-gluten menu items, but franchises appear to have the edge when it comes to capturing consumer dollars. In 2015, North American franchises earned $23.5 million in revenue compared to just $14.9 million for independent operators. To compete with big-name franchises, independent pizzerias will need to build a loyal following among local customers.
Offering gluten-free pizza is a good bet to attract not only diners who have eliminated gluten from their diets, but their loved ones as well. Sharing pizza is a weekly ritual for many families and Canadian diners are even more likely than their U.S. diners to buy gluten-free products if someone in the household is gluten sensitive, according to FoodNavigator-USA.
For independent operators looking to add gluten-free pizza to the menu, getting great recipes and quality ingredients is just the beginning. All too often, the best of intentions fall apart when it comes to executing a gluten-free menu. A single incident of cross-contamination can have serious consequences for someone with gluten sensitivity, including physical symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea and rashes as well as mental symptoms like anxiety, irritability and “brain fog.” In severe cases, trace amounts of gluten can send someone to the emergency room.
Gluten contamination can also have severe consequences for restaurants. When someone gets sick from cross-contamination, they are unlikely to return to your business. What’s worse, they are likely to tell friends and family about their experience and poor word of mouth can be bad for business.
Don’t rely on procedures created on the fly and stored in somebody’s head. Fortunately, developing written policies and procedures doesn’t have to be complicated. Writing procedures on lined notepaper and placing notes in a binder is a great start.
Making sure that staff are properly trained in best practices for gluten-free food preparation and storage is equally important. Having an employee shadow an experienced staff member and take notes is a simple way to orient new hires to kitchen procedures. A good training program will also provide kitchen staff with the opportunity to get some hands-on experience implementing best practices and test staff members on their knowledge before pizzas leave the kitchen.
Training is also essential for front-of-house staff, who need to answer questions about menu items thoroughly and accurately. It can include direction on proper etiquette when serving customers with gluten sensitivity. Anyone asking for gluten-free options should be treated with respect. Staff shouldn’t be asking questions about the customer’s health, whether or not they have gluten intolerance or just prefer gluten-free foods.
If you’re considering offering a gluten-free menu, third-party certification can be an invaluable resource. During the assessment process, the certifying organization can provide guidance on best practices for safe food handling and storage procedures. It can assistance in developing an effective training program. A qualified organization also can serve as a resource if any questions come up following certification.
When evaluating certifying organizations, make sure they offer on-site assessments and on-site audits. On-site audits ensure your procedures adhere to high standards for food handling and provide powerful validation for savvy diners who want to know that you can meet their dietary needs.
Independent pizzerias face unprecedented challenges due to changing tastes and competition in the marketplace. Offering gluten-free pizza is an excellent way to differentiate your business, but knowing best practices for preventing cross-contamination is essential. Developing written procedures, training staff and enlisting expert guidance are the key ingredients to safe, delicious gluten-free pizza and a great return on investment for restaurants looking to build a loyal following of gluten-free patrons and their loved ones.
Lindsey Yeakle is Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS) Program and Quality Control Manager, Food Safety, for the nonprofit Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG). For more information, visit gffoodservice.org.