Whether you want plant-based, lactose-free, low-fat, high protein or everyday dairy, Richard McComb has the right product for your menu
Once viewed as the preserve of New Age disciples, the free-from food movement has a very different image today. While ‘clean eating’ – no dairy, no animal products, no gluten – may not be the unstoppable torrent that some commentators have suggested, even its detractors have had to concede it is now more of a fast-flowing river than a trickling brook.
Food intolerances and ethical food preferences are widely accepted and hugely lucrative in the UK, with mainstream retail outlets stocking a range of products. The catering and hospitality sector has followed suit, and the pace of adaption and adoption has been given a major boost by the growth of veganism, as well as the enthusiasm among flexitarian diners for trying out new plant-only dishes.
Social media has brought the revolution to consumers’ laptops and mobiles. UK-based vegan bloggers such as YouTuber Monami Frost have gained millions of views (62 million, not to mention her 1.5 million Instagram followers). The dairy market has had to up its game – put World Plant Milk Day in your diary for 22 August – and position itself for the new world order.
Brakes has tapped into the prevalent trends by launching a selection of vegan cheeses, including Violife. It also has an extensive range of Alpro products, offering options for breakfast, dessert, grab-and-go toppings and dessert accompaniments. The area is expected to develop further as the vegan trend gathers pace.
Futura Foods, which supplies Mediterranean-inspired products including Greek, Cypriot, Italian and Spanish cheeses, has launched vegan MozzaRisella, which replicates mozzarella’s stringiness when melted. Made from rice, MozzaRisella comes in several formats, including an individually quick-frozen grated variety that can be used straight from the freezer.
John Steele, national account controller at Futura Foods, says: “With the vegan movement growing, a product such as MozzaRisella can help chefs create great-tasting dishes and encourage, rather than alienate, vegan diners.”
Dairy Partners has launched its first vegan cheese, Veganarella, as a dairy-free mozzarella and cheddar alternative. It is suitable for a range of applications including sandwiches, baked potatoes and pizzas.
When it comes to other non-dairy products, Kerrymaid includes cream alternatives, custard, a buttery spread and hollandaise, which are all gluten-free, in its free-from range. Likewise, Kerrymaid premium baking margarine, designed for cakes, pastries and pies, is dairy- and gluten-free.
Lakeland Dairies has a lactose-free cooking cream, Millac Gold Single, which thickens quickly during cooking without flour, making it ideal for diners with gluten intolerance. It is lower in saturated fat than fresh cream and neutral in flavour, allowing other ingredients to predominate. Available in ambient one-litre cartons, it has a six-month shelf life and does not require chilling until the carton is opened.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, demand for gluten- and dairy-free products, led by younger shoppers, has delivered an additional 449 million ‘free-from’ occasions since 2016 in the UK – a 26% growth over the period. It explains the rush to market for vegan desserts, such as Suncream Dairies’ new Love Vegan vanilla ice-cream, which is made with vanilla beans and free from all 14 allergens, including gluten, soya, nut, lactose and egg. Made with coconut oil and dextrose, it is easy to scoop and available in five-litre resealable containers for use back of house or in scooping cabinets.
Yet there is no point introducing dietary-specific products if the options are not clear to diners. Karen Heavey, brand manager for Kerrymaid, says: “It is important that caterers are careful to indicate which options fit which dietary requirements on menus, to ensure customers are informed as to what they are consuming.”
Low in fat, high in flavour
Svitlana Binns, customer relationship manager at Dairygold Food Ingredients UK (DFI), says: “When it comes to dairy, consumers are more health-conscious than ever before, seeking out alternatives to traditional dairy products. Whether they are restricted due to dietary requirements or just looking for a healthier alternative, there’s a growing interest in free-from and healthy options that caterers and foodservice operators should bear in mind.
“While cheese remains a key ingredient, it’s important that manufacturers acknowledge trends towards healthy alternatives, and cater to this shift by offering low-fat varieties that provide a protein hit and, in turn, appeal to fitness enthusiasts and those trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.”
DFI offers a wide range of cheeses, including white and coloured cheese (3% fat), cottage cheese, reduced-fat soft cheese and 3% liquid cheese.
Protein-rich cheese makes a great meat alternative, and products such as DFI’s halloumi and goats’ cheese (hard and soft) can offer an ideal vegetarian supplement to a traditional burger. Some styles of goats’ cheese are also lactose-free.
DFI’s new range encompasses new styles of cheese, such as quark (a spoonable, fat-free soft cheese), and more traditional products such as Cricket St Thomas Camembert (a rich and creamy British Camembert with a soft, edible white rind).
Italian and continental food and wine importer/distributor Continental Quattro Stagioni has vegan and vegetarian cheese options for everything from pizzas to desserts, including dolcelatte, Gran Moravia, mascarpone, stracchino, goats’ cheese pearls in garlic oil, baby mozzarella, gluten-free mozzarella and halloumi. Paolo Veneroni, CQS director of sales (Scotland), says: “As well as creating appealing menus using quality ingredients, operators need to ensure they meet the needs of today’s environment- and health-conscious consumers.”
Speciality cheese and dairy supplier Eurilait reports increased interest in its continental cheese range, including feta, halloumi, soft Italian cheeses and blues. James Millward, Eurilait managing director, says: “The trends towards flexitarian diets, eating on the go and sharing have enabled cheese manufacturers to innovate in line with new eating occasions such as barbecue and summer eating.
“Health has been one of the most influential food trends in recent years. It encompasses more than just the traditional low-fat options to include high-protein and dairy-free products, which have a place, although niche. Meal kits are still on the increase, so we also anticipate seeing more innovation with cheese as a hot meal choice.”
In line with the healthy eating trend, Beacon’s supplier Pensworth Dairy has reported an increase in consumers opting for lighter skimmed or semi-skimmed varieties of milk. It has also seen growing demand for soya-based products as well as almond milk.
Alice Bexon, purchasing manager at Beacon, says: “We strongly urge operators to be more creative and include a varied choice of milk and yogurts for consumers to select from as part of the menu.”
Lakeland’s 1% fat barista milk is suitable for use in all barista-style coffee machines. Head of marketing and international, Paul Chmielewski, says: “From cappuccinos to creamy hot chocolates, this new generation of milk can be foamed and refoamed, and ensures a consistent foam texture.”
Social media is again playing a part on this focus on health. Azhar Zouq, managing director of Lancashire Farm Dairies, says: “Customers are being influenced by health-conscious celebrities and social media personalities such as the Body Coach and Clean Eating Alice, who promote a healthier lifestyle. Their focus on the importance of a diet that includes healthy fats and high levels of protein is leading customers to seek out healthier, nutritious products that will also keep them full and energised.”
The shift in consumer demand prompted Lancashire Farm Dairies to launch its first ever foodservice format natural yogurt, in mango and strawberry variants, and in 85g and 125g formats. Zouq says: “These individual serving formats have worked well as perceptions of yogurt have changed. People are now turning to the product for a nutritious, healthy accompaniment to their meal or as a mid-day snack. This health focus is also encouraging customers to seek out yogurt due to its naturally high levels of protein.”
The real deal
However, the UK cheese market remains in a robust health with total overall spend up 3.7%. Although Cheddar continues to dominate, taking about half of the market, continental-style cheeses are increasingly popular. Sales volumes of hard continentals are up 6% year-on-year and soft continentals are up 6.4% year-on-year, according to UK dairy body AHDB Dairy.
As with the sourcing of all food products, Natalie Phillips, Brakes category manager, points to the growing importance of provenance in cheese. Other trends include more requests for flavoured cheeses, and a demand for cheeses with added protein.
Cheese can also be used to fortify meals and snacks with calories and protein. “Increasing the energy content of meals without increasing the portion size is useful for people with smaller appetites,” says Ruth O’Sullivan, a nutritionist with Brakes. She suggests adding cheese to savoury dishes, soups and mashed potato, and says operators can boost custard, soup and mash by adding cream.
There is plenty of appetite for premium dairy, such as Paysan Breton, produced by Eurilait parent company Laita. Winner of the dairy category at The Caterer’s Product Excellence Awards 2017, Paysan Breton is a spreadable cheese with a rich creaminess and a mild flavour.
Continental Quattro Stagioni www.continental-food.co.uk
Futura Foods www.futura-foods.com
Lakeland Dairies www.pritchitts.com
Lancashire Farm Dairies www.lancashirefarm.com
Suncream Dairies www.suncreamicecream.com