It’s no surprise that many consumers adhere to gluten-free diets due to gluten allergy or intolerance, but a growing number of consumers are turning to gluten-free products as a way to live healthier lifestyles. The gluten-free market is already a significant one, and it is poised for even more growth in the coming years. While entering the gluten-free market carries a lot of benefits for manufacturers and retailers, there are certain risks companies should keep in mind when trying to capitalize on the gluten-free craze.

The gluten-free diet is one of the most popular diets in the U.S., Alessio Fasano of the Center for Celiac Research said during a webinar this week. The gluten-free market rakes in about $10 billion in annual sales, and while some of that comes from consumers who eat gluten-free for health reasons, a significant amount is due to consumers choosing a gluten-free diet because they think it is healthier. (read more…)

The post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Traveling around the world has given Howard Popoola an appreciation for the quality and safety of the food supply chain in the U.S.

Popoola, vice president of quality assurance at Skokie, Ill.-based Topco Associates, the nation’s largest private-label cooperative, gained his global perspective early in his career working in food safety for the United Nations. After gaining his master’s degree in food and industrial microbiology from the University of Lagos in his native Nigeria, Popoola became the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Program Manager for the U.N. Food Program, where he was responsible for establishing HACCP systems — a prevention-based process for food safety — in food donor processing facilities in more than 80 countries.

He gained further experience in quality assurance and food safety positions with major food brands, including WestFarm Foods (now Darigold), Kraft Foods and Nestle before he joined distribution company U.S. (read more…)

Newk’s Eatery co-founder and CEO Chris Newcomb’s first go-around as a restaurant owner included plenty of trial-and-error and learning on the job. As co-founders of McAlister’s Deli in 1989, Newcomb and his dad and brother learned about everything from recipes to scheduling to training by doing. Along they way, they also learned to ask for help.

“We met a lot of really smart people and started asking questions,” he said. “You can always learn a lot from the people who have accomplished a lot.”

The lessons stuck, and when Newcomb left McAlister’s it had grown to more than 50 company owned and franchise locations, laying the groundwork for a chain that today boasts 341 eateries in 24 states, according to its website.

Newk’s Eatery is a fast-casual concept with a focus on people and evidence of the lessons learned the first time around.

“It had been a long run at McAlisters, there was a lot of fast growth and a lot of hard work. (read more…)

The 2015 National Restaurant Association Show, to be held May 16–19 at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, will draw nearly 65,000 foodservice industry employees and operators looking to learn about new industry trends, gadgets, food products and cooking techniques, as well as attend tailored education sessions covering all kinds of topics, including environmental sustainability.

With so much going on, what should you see?

Here are six must see events at the Show that NRA’s Conserve sustainability team think you shouldn’t miss. If you don’t know a lot about sustainability or how to make your own business environmentally responsible, you can start with three sustainability learning sessions:

True Tales of Unexpected Triumph: The Bumpy Path to Sustainability, May 16, 11:30 a.m., in room S402b. If you like true stories told live, you’ll love this hour-long session, based on the popular “The Moth” storytelling series. Hear personal tales from industry insiders, like Starbucks, Sodexo, and Kendall College, about how they started their own environmental efforts. (read more…)

Late last March, Panera Chairman Ron Shaich announced the company’s five-year, $42M investment in “Panera 2.0,” a digital ordering platform to enable guests to order and pay through new digital channels for a faster experience. Like many of its fast casual brethren, Panera had identified speed of service as a cause of customer dissatisfaction and a barrier to its continued sales growth. As Panera’s Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation and Growth Officer Blaine Hurst put it: “Nobody likes to wait in line, even for their favorite meal.”

Today, 47% of fast casual operators have embraced the digital ordering shift to become just as fast as their fast food competitors. As fast casual operators have made the digital ordering shift, they have seen the following additional benefits: larger average order size (guests no longer feel rushed and are given suggestive selling recommendations through the digital ordering channel 100% of the time); higher visit frequency (loyal guests return more frequently when given the convenience of getting to “skip the line” at pickup); reduced food waste (some operators mandate that guests must pay in advance at the time of their order, eliminating the risk of no-show guests); and improved order accuracy (removing the human element and potential for misheard/misunderstood orders or misentered orders, because the order is going from the guests’ PC or mobile phone straight to the prep line printer). (read more…)