Free-from food takes to the skies at WTCE

09 Jan 2017

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

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. New product innovation is expected to contribute to growth in the coming years, Technavio says.

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 . 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.”

WAM Group (World And More) is another company that specialises in modern trend-led food requirements, such as kosher, halal and gluten-free meal trays. Frederic Moine, Head of Operations and Product Marketing, said: “We are a small company and we like to show what we can do. We have a lot of new products and WTCE offers a great opportunity to see our clients and meet new ones.

“We aim to continue developing halal, kosher and vegan foods as well as our gluten-free range as we still see plenty of growth in this area.” WAM currently supplies airlines as a large majority of its business and is actively seeking more opportunities in rail.

Other companies joining the WTCE exhibitor line up for 2017 include BestPartner Food, which supplies allergy-free food with a focus on gluten-free pasta; Dr Schar AG, which offers gluten-free products; and Vidasal AB, which specialises in allergen-free sweets and confectionery.

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