26 March 2008, 16:16 PM
  • Want to target the lucrative special diet sector? Annie George at Special Diets Directory tells manufacturers, caterers and retailers how they can with these top ten tips

1. Ready meals
Although now a firm part of our national diet they have long-since been taboo for allergy sufferers. Thinking purely about coeliacs and wheat intolerance for a moment, manufacturers should consider new ways to create thickeners without using wheat flour.

2. Snacks
If cakes, breads and biscuits are made with teff flour or spelt, more people would be able to enjoy them. Plus, soya or rice drinks could be used in recipes/manufacturing instead of milk – the amounts are often so small that the flavour would be unaffected. 

3. Restaurants that care
Make the relatively simple changeover by doing some basic retraining and using more fresh food and universally ‘safe’ ingredients.

4. Special selection
Consumers expect speciality food retailers to be more informed and selective about the food they sell. These are precisely the places these types of foods should abound (even dominate) as the first port of call for consumers. By also supporting the smaller local producers who, paradoxically seem to be the ones making the most effort for the Special Diets cause they can also step away from the ‘same old, same old’ dusty box display of special diet products wheeled out everywhere else.

5. Labelling
Delis are also often a bit lacking on the labelling front because the food is unpackaged. Try putting up signs saying ‘suitable for coeliacs’, ‘low salt diet’,  ‘dairy free’ or ‘no nuts’, etc, could help you sell stacks more special diet foods.

6. In their shoes
Consider what it would be like if you could never have any dairy products, what would you crave? A two day trial of living any of a variety of restricted diets would be something of a shock and a real eye opener for anyone who doubts the reality and the mileage in it!

7. Healthy choices
Low and no salt alternatives will sort the wheat from the chaff - cooks and chefs using skill rather than salt and chemicals to tempt the modern corrupted palette should be made a ‘National Challenge’.

8. Education
Consumer shopping and cooking for most special dietary requirements is still extremely challenging and frustrating. Waiting and sales staff are often embarrassed as they often have no training to deal with even the most basic questions or requests. So make sure staff are aware of issue of allergy and know where to point interested customers.

9. Convenience
Lunch is one of the most difficult meals for allergy suffers to find an alternative, so consider offering rice based salads instead of pasta, make some wheat free bread so there’s a sandwich option. Making the most of the lunch area could make you the first port of call for allergy sufferers.

10. Sell yourself
Many allergy sufferers are happy to travel to find the products they need, but having them available online to buy is a great way to gain loyal custom.

Annie George runs Special Diets Directory, a one-stop shop for producers, retailers and wholesalers of allergy foods. Visit www.specialdietsdirectory.co.uk for more information.