From takeout to haute cuisine, gluten-free is on the menu

From takeout to haute cuisine, gluten-free is on the menu

That sound you (virtually) heard on January 26, when Pizza Hut debuted its Udi’s-crusted gluten-free pizza to 2,400 locations nationwide, was a collective cheer from the GF blogosphere. “The beautiful partnership of Pizza Hut and Udi’s,” said one blogger, is a celiac’s dream come true. “Excited” was the word du jour. Gluten free-ers are excited that the world’s largest pizza company is catering to their dietary needs. Excited that the move will spur other restaurants into GF action, and excited that Pizza Hut is doing it right.

In collaboration with Gluten Intolerance Group, Pizza Hut implemented in-store training protocols, developed customized preparation procedures, and supplied restaurants with Gluten-Free Kits with gloves, parchment paper, and designated pizza cutters. This overhaul process is not simple, easy, or cheap. Having made the investment in time and training to carve itself a slice of the GF pie, the world’s largest pizza company is clearly confident that gluten-free is far from faddish.

So are professional chefs. In a survey of 1,300 members of the American Culinary Federation for the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Culinary Forecast, gluten-free cuisine ranked 12th of 231 items overall, named by 70% of respondents as a Hot Trend. GF cuisine also earned the #5 spot among Culinary Themes. The most compelling finding? Chefs chose GF cuisine as one of the current culinary trends that will be the hottest menu trend 10 years from now.

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group, has described the distinction between trends and fads as follows:

“True trends-as opposed to temporary fads-show the evolution of the wider shifts of our modern society over time, and focus on the provenance of various food and beverage items, unique aspects of how they are prepared and presented, as well as the dietary profiles of those meals.”

Similarly, according to L.E.K. Consulting’s U.S. Foodservice Operators Study: Optimism and Opportunities (June 2014), “Operators say they are convinced that gluten-free dining is not a fad. A remarkable 56% say they have already changed or are changing their menus to include gluten-free items.”

Indeed, Packaged Facts’ report Gluten-free Foods in the U.S. (January 2015) reveals that the share of chain restaurants serving GF fare skyrocketed seven-fold between 2010 and 2014 to 15%. And roughly 14% of respondents to Packaged Facts’ August 2014 proprietary consumer survey say the availability of gluten-free options plays a role when they are deciding what to order at fast-food or sit-down restaurants.

“Gluten-Free Eating Appears to Be Here to Stay” (The New York Times, June 16, 2014), profiles Del Posto, “one of New York’s most heralded and expensive Italian restaurants,” and its chef Mark Ladner, “widely considered to be one of the best pasta cooks in the nation,” who offers a GF version of every one of his pasta dishes. Not only that, he plans to open a QSR chain, Pasta Flyer, showcasing GF dishes.

“Over the last maybe three or four years, most of my creative energy has been going to mitigating dietary restrictions. We just decided to embrace it,” chef Ladner told the Times. Gluten-free “really has become a thing, and I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon.”

This blog is based partially on research featured in Packaged Facts’ Gluten-free Foods in the U.S.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through April 15, 2015. Use code PFGLUTEN2015.

For further information on the market for pizza in the U.S., visit Packaged Facts' report, Pizza Market in the U.S.: Foodservice and Retail, 2nd Edition.

By Howard Waxman