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Gluten-free onboard meals to be a key focus at WTCE 2017

Posted 13 January 2017 · Add Comment

Airline operators are being urged to improve their free-from offering to satisfy the huge demand for these products onboard.

In the UK alone, one in five people consider themselves to have a food allergy or intolerance and the number of cases has doubled in the past decade. While for many, consuming free-from foods is a lifestyle choice, for others, it is necessary to prevent serious illness. As a result, airlines are under pressure to cater more comprehensively to this need.

At the 2017 World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo (WTCE), there will be more free-from foods on display than ever before. One of the key areas of interest will be the thriving gluten-free market, which is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 6% between 2015 and 2019, according to a report from Technavio. A key factor driving continued momentum in the category is a perception among consumers that gluten-free foods are healthier.

While growth in this market is slower in the UK, research from Mintel states that sales of free-from food are forecast to grow 13% and reach £531m this year[3]. The trend has increasingly found its way onboard with most airlines catering for vegetarian, vegan, diabetic and gluten-intolerant preferences.

Asian airlines do this very well, according to Nikos Loukas, consultant to the airline industry and author of Inflight Feed. ”Most Asian-based carriers offer an assortment of allergen-free meals and usually offer something that will suit almost any request. ANA Group stands out among the best. Allergen-free meals can be ordered up until 96 hours before the flight time, while Kosher and vegetarian meals can be ordered just 24 hours out from take-off,” Loukas commented. ANA offers a 27 allergen-free meal including the seven most common allergens and 20 less common such as crab, banana, kiwi fruit and Matsutake mushrooms.

WTCE 2017 will see a host of free-from companies exhibiting at the 2017 show, reflecting the increase in demand for these products in onboard catering. One such company is Lovemore Free From Foods, a division of Welsh Hills Bakery, which produces a range of gluten, wheat and mostly dairy-free biscuits, cookies, cakes, tarts and fruit pies.

The percentage of the company’s airline-based sales is rapidly growing and it now supplies Gate Gourmet & Vueling. Julian Cruttenden, Key Account Manager for Welsh Hills Bakery, said: “The major retailers are growing at 30%+ year on year in gluten-free produce. We see snacks, cakes and biscuits as particularly in demand in this sector.

“WTCE is a window to the onboard industry and we have now attended twice. The increased focus on free-from food within the industry and at WTCE makes this an attractive proposition for us and the onboard sector alike.”

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