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Why are food hypersensitive (FHS) consumers so important to food operators?
There’s a lot of value in the pound from the FHS customer. They’re usually the ones who decide where to eat and will influence friends and family when choosing a venue. My daughter has both food allergies and intolerances, so people ask where she feels comfortable eating out. If she can’t eat somewhere, they won’t go.
When there isn’t enough choice for FHS consumers, businesses miss out too. If we can’t find a dessert for my daughter when we go out, no one else has a dessert: it’s the same with starters. This represents a significant loss of income for food operators and is a good reason to cater for allergy customers across the menu.
There’s a huge community of people with allergies on social media. If an FHS consumer trusts a food operator and enjoys the food, they'll become a regular customer, tell their friends and share their experiences on social media. FHS consumers are vocal on social media if they have a bad experience too. And with allergies on the rise, this can affect businesses negatively in the long-run.
Are any businesses serving FHS consumers particularly well?
A five-star restaurant in London made the whole of their menu gluten-free and dairy-free and didn’t tell anybody for several months. Everyone was raving about the food. Then they announced it was gluten and dairy free and bookings went up by 25%. People could eat safely and didn’t mind paying extra for it.
How are businesses doing since the introduction of Natasha’s Law?
Many larger operators were prepared and are doing well. A lot of smaller businesses weren’t ready, however, and some aren’t even aware of the law and their obligations. Unfortunately, there’s been a backward step since Covid. Many restaurants and take-aways put up signs saying “Due to the pandemic, we’re unable to cater for customers with allergies.” Since re-opening, this has turned into signs warning allergy customers of the potential risk of cross-contamination. My daughter was given a disclaimer to sign by one restaurant - this isn’t legal.
Why is now a good time for food operators to adapt?
More and more children are being diagnosed with multiple and severe allergies – these are allergies outside of the top 14. This is likely to lead to legislation for ingredient information for all loose foods moving forwards. Added to this, supply chain challenges around Brexit have forced many small businesses to substitute products for their regular ones - difficult and dangerous if they’re not correctly monitoring ingredient lists.
With legislation now forcing the issue and likely to result in high profile claims, getting solid systems up and running: training staff, reviewing menus and adapting operations, is essential for food operators right now.