Foodservice operators should not ignore the growing gluten-free opportunity in the UK, delegates at MCA’s Marketing Conference heard last week.

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, chef and entrepreneur, Genius Foods, said the free-from category was currently worth £1bn in the UK, with 25% of the population buying into the gluten-free occasion – 8% of which had a medical need, and the remainder due to lifestyle choices.

The market for gluten-free products has grown significantly over the past 10 years, with the category achieving 29% year-on-year growth within the grocery sector, said Bruce-Gardyne, who put the value of the foodservice opportunity at £100m.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in trying to find gluten-free options when they are out and about,” she said, adding that “it’s all about choice”.

It’s worth having more than one gluten-free option on the menu, Bruce-Gardyne recommended to operators.

She also pointed out that if there is a gluten-free person within a group who are eating out then that person will often influence the choice of eating establishment, therefore it’s important for pubs and restaurants to consider that they may not only be losing the custom of the gluten-free consumer, but the whole party, if they fail to offer gluten-free options.

The number of gluten-free dishes has risen in London chain restaurants by 5% this year – to 367 dishes overall, according to MCA’s own Menu Tracker data (2016 vs. 2017 spring/summer menus).

Prezzo had the highest number of gluten-free dishes, offering 62 this year, followed by Banana Tree and La Tasca, with 36 and 32 dishes respectively.

However out of the 89 chain restaurants on the Menu Tracker, only 22 brands offered gluten-free dishes, suggesting it is perhaps the case the operators are looking to shift towards offering separate gluten-free menus, rather than incorporating gluten-free items on their main menu.