Helping colleges improve grades on gluten-free options
With more and more students likely to have food sensitivities, General Mills Convenience & Foodservice is helping to ensure colleges and universities don’t receive a failing grade when it comes to offering gluten-free menu options.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Further, a recent study by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) reports 58 percent of college students who avoid gluten identified themselves as having Celiac disease.
These stats, coupled with reports that younger consumers are more likely to eat gluten-free version of foods (even if they do not have Celiac disease), highlight the growing need for improved food safety strategies and specifically gluten-free menu solutions on campus.
“We know the need for more gluten-free solutions is front and center with campus foodservice directors right now and will be for years to come,” says Tanya Kroll, channel marketing manager, Convenience & Foodservice. “This ‘pain point’ for our customer gives us an opportunity to not only showcase our growing gluten-free product portfolio, but to truly demonstrate how we can be a partner to help them manage this ongoing challenge.”
State of gluten-free on campus
Despite the growing number of students entering college with food allergies or sensitivities, many schools may not be doing enough to offer gluten-free menu options.
In the NFCA study, which surveyed 1,000 gluten-free students on college campuses, 61 percent of gluten-free students said they are uncomfortable eating in the campus dining hall and that the Dining Services director was not aware of gluten-free nutrition.
“This emphasizes the need to create a welcoming environment for students, and to make sure that they feel comfortable in order to increase patronage,” says Kroll. “While every college and university takes this issue very seriously, each campus has a different approach on how they are managing gluten-free needs depending on their size and resources.”
She explains more schools are beginning to add gluten-free zones or stations, and separate areas within the dining hall where gluten-free products are offered and food from other areas of the dining hall is prohibited. These are very strict, controlled areas with special signage and color-coded serving equipment to remind patrons and workers of the importance of reducing cross-contact. Other campuses may take a more relaxed approach with “gluten-friendly” areas within their dining facility.
Serving gluten-free solutions on campus
“Our goal is to help C&U foodservice directors and dining managers with the right products, information and education to help foster an environment where students feel safe to eat,” says Kroll.
For instance, bulk cereal is a popular menu item on campuses but one that can be risky considering the potential for cross contact when gluten-free and gluten-containing cereals are co-mingled. General Mills works closely with colleges and universities to reduce risk of cross contact with tips for labeling along with suggested placement guidelines.
In addition to an ever-expanding list of gluten-free products from cereals to yogurt to snacks, C&F also offers gluten-free flour and mixes and recently introduced a collection of gluten-free recipes tailored to campus dining.
Recipes such as Gluten-Free Tex-Mex Veggie Burgers and Gluten-Free Monkey Clusters have all been added to Break Out of the Bowl – a tool that helps C&U foodservice professionals make the most of back-of-house products like cereal, yogurt and mix. Several student-pleasing recipes, developed by General Mills’ culinary team, were sampled at the National Association of College and University Food Service conference in July.
But the team is not stopping there. They have invested in creating educational tools for the sales team, as well as a gluten-free hub on the C&F website that is a one-stop resource for foodservice operators to get product information, recipes and the latest info to serve their gluten-free patrons.
In addition, through a partnership with NFCA, General Mills also offers a discount for college and university foodservice professionals to participate in an online training program for safe gluten-free food handling.
And later this month, the General Mills Bell Institute of Health & Nutrition will host an educational webinar to help operators navigate this ongoing and growing challenge.
“Managing Food Allergies and Gluten-Free Needs in Colleges and Universities” is aimed at helping directors and dining managers manage food safety strategies and offer inspiration for gluten-free menu options. Participants can get one free continuing education credit.
“The webinar is yet another example that highlights our deep commitment to helping our C&U customers manage gluten-free needs by arming them with information and inspiration and letting them know they are not alone,” said Kroll.
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 National Center for Health Statistics 2013; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 America’s Universities Receive Poor Grades on Subject of Gluten-Free; National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
 Gluten-Free Foods, US; Mintel, Sept 2014