The Future For Fast Food Marketing?

I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. A life changing condition with a simple treatment regimen, don’t eat gluten. I won’t bore you with the science, but for celiacs eating gluten can be deadly. I’m lucky in that my sensitivity is not as great as some people with a more severe version of the disease but there are deadly long term consequences if I am not diligent with my diet.

I could not have chosen a better time to receive this diagnosis because gluten free food choices are more abundant today than ever. I even found gluten free matzah for Passover. I’ve gone to my favorite Italian restaurant and they have made gluten free pasta readily available. Most independent restaurants where I live are prepared to make adjustments for customers who have celiac and others who are choosing to go gluten free for health reasons.

On a recent visit to Blue Smoke I noticed many options on the menu were listed as gluten free and Bryant Park Grill lists a permanent menu item as a gluten free pasta. While I can certainly navigate my way around a menu to fit my health condition chain restaurants can be more of a challenge.

Breakfast is the toughest meal for me. Many staples of this meal are bread or grain based. Products from Kind are a godsend, but I would love to order pancakes out at a restaurant. This morning at IHOP I had to request an omelet be made without pancake batter–yes, they put pancake batter in their omelet –but I was pining for pancakes and could not have them. All this has me wondering which breakfast chain is going to be the first to offer gluten free options? Which fast food company?

I understand that it’s not simply adding the items to the menu. Gluten free products can get cross contaminated with regular wheat based products easily. Not terrible for me, but potentially lethal for severe celiac sufferers. My local pizza restaurants cook gluten free pizza on a tin foil tray so as not to cross contaminate in the oven with regular wheat based products. For a sandwich or burger chain it might be easier. They keep the rolls in plastic bags and so long as they keep them separate there are no problems. Pancake houses would have a tougher time. They would either have to clean a griddle and change cooking utensils or dedicate a griddle and utensils for gluten free usage.

Why should they even consider offering gluten free options? Today about 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac but 97% of people with the condition or sensitivity have not been diagnosed, like me up until 6 months ago. That means up to one third of the US population have it. This is a market that early movers will have a major advantage in as testing becomes more prevalent. This is not a niche category. This is mainstream.

So, who wants to be first? Please be White Castle!

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8 thoughts on “The Future For Fast Food Marketing?

  1. David,

    Your point about potential market size, and therefore need, will drive decision making, I suppose. A few years back, one friend, and the preteen daughter of another, developed celiac. In the case of the child, the reaction was considerable and it took what seemed like forever to diagnose. She, and her family, suffered. Shortly thereafter, General Mills launched a gluten free line and other mass market processors have followed, as I am sure you know. So at least there are food choices available until medical remedies are found.

    General Mills used only social media to get the word out – how about we take advantage of our trade expertise and do the same?

  2. Ken Seiter says:

    David,
    I lead the marketing for the Specialty Food Association and we run the Fancy Food Shows. Products featured are usually on top of or ahead of the trends in food. Unlike a few years ago our booths are packed with Gluten-Free items. Let me know if you would like to attend. Perhaps you can connect with some quality gluten-free producers.
    Ken

  3. Hi David,
    Yes there have been many, many new additions to products in the GF world in the last decade. I know this because I have 2 children with celiac disease. My son Josh was diagnosed at the age of 2, he is now 12. Rachel was 7 when she was diagnosed. Ten years ago we were in a much different place. Not many knew about celiac disease let alone restaurant owners. I believe there were only 2-3 restaurants in & around Buffalo that had any GF meals on their menu & I needed a meal that a toddler would eat! Three years ago I started my own GF business because I had such a passion to help others and provide more GF products-cookie dough & fudge brownies (http://www.jajosh.com). Keep searching for that GF breakfast! Contact your local support group for a listing of restaurants in your area. You may just find one that will provide you with GF pancakes. In the meantime be creative an make your own. I use King Arthur GF pancake mix- add a mashed banana and chocolate chips. Good luck to you, Julie Reinstein

    • Thanks, Julie. I have made pancakes at home and even adapt my favorite recipe (Ruth Reichl’s) with GF flour and almond flour. I knew about celiac before I had the condition because my cousin has been struggling with it for many years.

  4. Anita says:

    I have been living as gluten free as possible. If so inclined to eat at home the recipe choices are now many for breakfast. Made gluten free pancakes and will post that on my next blog my friend! Great blog David!!!

    • Ron Bender says:

      I am fortunate that my dietary restrictions have, thus far, been entirely by choice. I have gone ultro-low carb for the past two+ years, meaning I have given up pasta, breads, rice, potatoes, AND PANCAKES!!! It can be very challenging to eat when traveling, for me, lunch is the toughest. I hope that many more restaurants will offer GF options for you and all the others with celiac.

      Now if they could only adjust their menus to help people avoid diabetes…

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