Food Intolerance

It might not be a good thing for those with a food intolerance, but  your coffee shop can benefit from the food intolerances of your guests.

With over 35% of people saying that they have a food intolerance, every café, coffee shop and restaurant needs to take this seriously.

Recent research has suggested that only 5% of adults actually have an allergy or some type of food intolerance, whereas up to 35% of people believe they actually have a food intolerance.

When you add that to the growing number of vegetarians and vegans, you have a large cohort of your customers who will be very aware of your menu items.

The net impact of this is that 35% of your customers will be looking for a special diet of some type, any business that ignores this demand will lose more and more customers over time.

Group decisions are affected

In a group of customers looking to visit, the person with the special diet will be the person that chooses to visit that restaurant or café, so the impact could even be higher. In a party of 4 there is a very high probability that there will be a person with a special diet among them who is likely to choose where to take the party.

This is not the same issue as the healthy eating options that people say they want but never buy, people are serious about avoiding the products that they are intolerant to.

There are many early adopters of realising the importance of food intolerances. Nandos menu is mostly gluten free and La Tasca has a gluten free accredited menu.

The simplest way for us as coffee shop owners to address food intolerance, is to provide different types of milk. Soya milk has been around for a long time but now there are many more varieties- rice milk, coconut milk and almond milk to name a few.

The more difficult thing for us to achieve is our food range. With many things in a coffee shop being sweet, they tend to include gluten and milk. The market is growing rapidly at the moment and more gluten-free and free from products are becoming available.

How to get the advantage

The clever cafe or coffee shop can use this heightened awareness of food intolerance to provide a clear advantage:

  • Have the range of food intolerances that you cater for displayed clearly on your website – many people pre-plan their trips to accommodate this
  • Have a sign on your windows visible to people outside thinking of coming in, of your special diet options
  • Clearly mark on your in-store menus the options
  • Product labels also make it easy for people to decide
  • Put the range in one place so it’s easier to make a choice
  • Train your team to offer suggestions – have a crib sheet available

Of course, there are restaurants that are completely vegetarian or gluten-free for example. These cutting edge restaurants and cafes will attract a cult following but for the majority of us, we will have to ensure our menu is adapted accordingly to attract the largest number of potential people with food intolerances.

Overall it’s the coffee shop, café or restaurant that caters for these dietary needs well that will prosper.




About the authors

Andrew and Claire Bowen have run their own coffee shops for the last decade starting as franchisees and moving to develop their own independent business. The knowledge and experience gained from this have been used in the development of Café Success – the UK’s best resource for a coffee shop, café and tearoom owners. Free to Join at it is growing to cover all aspects of setting up and running a coffee business. Please link in with them and join the Coffee Shop Owners of the UK discussion group on linked in.

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