The National Trust – which operates in excess of 350 kitchens nationwide – has declared its intention to find ways of making ‘free-from’ options more accessible to customers even though the scale of its business creates significant menu challenges.
The charity has added gluten-free and vegan options to its menus in recent years, but it is now going further to ensure its menu caters for ‘free-from’ visitors too.
Head of food and beverage, Matt Drew, says the National Trust wants to ensure that customers with dietary requirements visiting its properties can find something interesting to eat and are “not just offered a bag of crisps”.
He said: “Vegetarians will remember the days when an omelette was the only thing they could eat on most menus. Cakes and biscuits have become the gluten-free equivalent of the omelette, with only sweet things catering for gluten-free diets in many places. What we’re trying to do at the Trust is to increase the range of gluten-free foods into savouries and mains, too.”
The Trust provides its properties with a seasonally changing cookbook and this allows it to share ‘free-from’ recipes.
However, providing a greater variety of choices to cater for many different dietary needs can be challenging. Most of the food on offer is freshly prepared in National Trust kitchens, which are not guaranteed gluten-free environments.
“We can’t yet describe our homemade foods as gluten-free but we can describe them as ‘made with ingredients not containing gluten’ where that’s the case,” explained Drew in the latest edition of the National Trust magazine.
Catering is now the third largest generator of revenue for the National Trust, behind enterprise and renewables and membership. Last year it contributed £71m to the organisation.
Efforts are now being made to find ways of making ‘free-from’ options even more accessible. The Trust recently dropped the extra charge for substituting dairy milk with soya milk in hot drinks, instead absorbing the additional cost of buying soya milk.
The Trust’s progress in catering has been recognised over the last two years with the award of the Soil Association’s ‘Bronze Food for Life’ accolade to 170 of its food outlets. It is the first national charity to achieve this recognition on such a wide scale.
“It’s a goal we’d been aiming for four years,” said Drew. “One of the requirements is that we have to ensure our menus and ingredients respond to dietary and cultural food needs.”