The challenge of special diets

By Charles Manners, Director, Turpin Smale Catering Consultants

The world of catering is continually evolving and last year’s allergen regulations for many university caterers only confirmed the processes that had been in place for some time.

The demand for special diets has been in part created by the consumer’s interest in what they are eating, and how caterers respond to this new era has been challenging, and in all probability the demand for product information will increase. Ella Woodward’s increasingly popular food blog is a case in point,  (when she makes brownies, she uses brown rice flour, raw cacao and sweet potatoes; her chocolate mousse contains whipped avocado) and her daunting regime seems to have struck an extraordinary chord with people. Her blog, on which she posts weekly recipes, gets 2.5 million hits a month.

University catering teams are delivering catering to a multi-cultural and diverse population that have a wide range of religion and dietary requirements. The food offers are in the main driven by the latest trends that require the base product to include low fat/calorie items and salad bars, but also ‘bespoke’ sandwiches and vegetarian food and traditional items. It is these core products offered on a daily basis that creates a consistent choice which is important to create regular custom.

For specialist meals such as halal many consider the most cost-efficient option is to use a food brand such as Chicken Joe’s brand, which give consistency and builds trust. The growth and awareness of gluten-free foods is an ever-increasing dietary requirement, and the good news is that the product range quality and taste that are available has vastly improved.

Hospitality and event catering is no different; event dinners special diets/requests regularly make up over 20% of the meals served, the complexity of dealing with this change in demand  is immense, but it appears that catering teams are meeting the challenge head-on. The message that I hear more often is that keeping the offer both manageable and authentic is the key, over-complexity simply results in a lack of consistency and disappointment.

For further information go to: or contact Charles on: 07836 550356

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