Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing insights: November 2013

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Gluten-free’s silver lining

If you’re like most business operators, you’ve probably watched the gluten-free trend warily.

If you’re like most business operators, you’ve probably watched the gluten-free trend warily.  We’ve all wondered if it was a fad or a long-term trend with staying power. The evidence so far suggests that gluten-free foods might just be here to stay. This means that adding gluten-free options to your menu is becoming a “have to have” and no longer a “nice to have.”

Gluten-free is no longer a niche market, and you’ll need a promotional plan to effectively serve it. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, one per cent of Canadians are diagnosed with celiac disease (a reaction to the gluten that causes damage to the lining of one’s small intestine) yet only five per cent of those who have the disease have been
officially diagnosed. 

The association also reports that six per cent of Canadians have a gluten intolerance, but a significant 22 per cent of Canadians avoid gluten by choice. The number of Canadians seeking gluten-free products is pegged at 2.3 million. Furthermore, celiac disease is four times more prevalent now than it was in the 1950s and that rate of increase is expected to double every year for the next 15 years. 

In response to this trend, restaurants are creating new gluten-free menu items. NPD’s MenuTrack, which analyzes menu trends of the top 53 Canadian restaurants, reports that menus mentioning gluten-free increased by 36 per cent from 2011 to 2012. Gluten-free is also the most common health claim made on menus, with 4.8 mentions per menu versus the next most popular claim at one mention per menu of low calorie. While highlighting gluten-free options on a menu is helpful to those diners who are already seated in your establishment, what about those who haven’t decided where to dine yet?  If gluten-free is such a powerful marketing message, how do we leverage it more effectively to increase our capture rate of undecided diners?

Anyone with a food allergy, intolerance or another unique dietary need such as vegetarianism, will tell you that they push their dining companions towards restaurants that cater to their dietary need. In other words, the person with the most at risk will most likely push their fellow diners to go where they can eat well and as such they are a huge influence on where to go. If you capture their hearts, minds and attention – you’re golden. What’s needed here is an awareness campaign that targets these people with the news that you can address their dietary need and do it deliciously.

Go fishing where the fish are. People with dietary restrictions are usually health conscious. If you advertise, you’ll want to target the food section of the newspaper or look at publications that focus on healthy living. Look at developing a network of local health professionals to partner with. Contact local naturopaths, yoga studios, family doctors and dieticians so they can share your information with their clients, who will naturally ask for advice on where
to eat. 

Don’t overlook digital venues to get your message out. Many bloggers are passionate about healthy eating. If there is one locally who writes about healthy eating, offer them a free meal so they can share the rave reviews with their readership. Post updates to your Facebook page when you introduce a new menu item. Ask a savvy team member to be your communications champion. That piping hot gluten-free pizza that just came out of the oven is definitely a “tweetable moment.”

If you track your digital footprint, you’ll likely find that these posts are the most commonly retweeted (shared) with other potential customers. If mentions of your gluten-free status are peppered throughout your website and home page, diners searching for this type of menu item will be guided towards your business.

Gluten-free is likely here to stay, and far from being an operational problem, it’s a marketing gold mine. If you tap into this, trend reactions to your menu will only be of the most profitable kind.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies. Michelle can be reached at

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