Despite the new allergen legislation regulations, more than three-quarters of diners are fearful of cross-contamination and the same proportion lack trust in restaurant staff, a survey by Cambridge Market Research found.
While acknowledging that the free-from foods market has grown steadily in the past five years, and gluten-free product sales alone reached £184m in the UK last year, the research company suggested that there was still a long way for the industry to go in providing quality products to satisfy the needs of category buyers.
It concluded that clearer labelling and definition of the free-from category could help demystify the sector for consumers.
Paul Beresford, managing director at Cambridge Market Research, said: “There is a need for greater transparency across the category including improving the product offer and facilitating the eating out process both for consumers and food outlets.”
Similar research by dessert producer Almondy found that 35 per cent of consumers were concerned about gluten contamination when eating out. Moreover, just 10 per cent of consumers have felt more confident since the new legislation, which came into force last December.
Almondy’s research also revealed that 41 per cent of consumers believed current gluten-free dessert offered by caterers were ‘boring and tasteless’, while nearly one-third of diners called for more gluten-free puddings when dining out.
Andrew Ely, managing director of Almondy, said: “Caterers want to be confident they are delivering a safe gluten-free menu, but it is near impossible to avoid gluten contamination in a commercial kitchen unless it is a 100 per cent gluten-free site.”
He added: Using products made in a dedicated free-from bakery, such as Almondy, can remove this risk.”
Aviko has also provided data, which showed almost 60 per cent of people don’t realise that not all chips are gluten-free, meaning operators could be inadvertently serving gluten to coeliacs.
The producer also found that 59 per cent of people wanted to see more gluten-free options available on menus.
Mohammed Essa, Aviko general manager, said: “Aviko is urging caterers to take a second look at their potato sides and the gluten that could potentially be hiding in the 4.6 million daily servings”.
“With the recent allergen legislation coming into effect, it’s never been more important for operators to be fully aware of what’s on their menus.
He added: “While potatoes themselves don’t contain gluten, how and where they are prepared means that operators could be unintentionally serving gluten to customers – resulting in serious side-effects for those with an intolerance.”
Adrian Morgan, co-owner of north London restaurant Niche, acknowledged it had been a “labour of love” to make his establishment 100 per cent gluten-free.
He said: “To say we cooked and we cooked is an understatement, and we had a fair share of disasters along the journey.
“However, we now have a menu of great gluten-free starters, such as cheddar and parmesan doughnuts. The absolute top seller is a starter we call NFC chicken, which is spicy crumb chicken fillets served with a homemade barbecue sauce and aioli.”