Consumers are riding the gluten free diet wave. New numbers this week from Mintel showed a 63% increase in gluten free food sales between 2012 and the end of this year. Mintel projected gluten free to be an $8.8 billion market by the end of 2014.
Now there is news that Italian restaurants that thrive on noodle dishes are having trouble in the market, could it be because of the gluten free following? The Nation’s Restaurant News published an article in its Reporter’s Notebook Thursday discussing the topic.
It reported on the state of some of the most popular pasta restaurants:
- Romano’s Macaroni Grill: same-store sales down 8.5%
- Bravo Cucina Italiana and Brio Tuscan Grille (both owned by Bravo Brio Restaurant Group) down 6.7% and 5.2% respectively
- “Olive Garden is struggling”, according to the NRN article
- Noodles & Company was actually up in same-store sales by 1.6%–it has struggled a bit this year.
The one restaurant that actually seemed to be doing okay was Fazoli’s whose same-store sales are up 5.6% this year.
Fazoli’s CEO, Carl Howard told Nation’s Restaurant News that the popularity of the gluten-free diet is the only thing he can think of that would cause this downtrend.
What I found interesting about all of this is that besides Fazoli’s, all of the aforementioned restaurants currently have, or were known to have had, gluten free options. Are people just abstaining from pasta? Why is this happening when restaurants are still making “gluten free” accommodations?
There are questions out there as to whether Romano’s Macaroni Grill even has gluten- free pasta anymore. The website makes no mention of gluten free. Find Me Gluten Free has a few comments just this month from people saying they were having trouble getting gluten-free food there. One writer said the Huntington Beach, CA location used to have gluten-free pasta and a menu, but the server said they no longer did because of “cross contamination problems at other locations”. Another person commented that the Raleigh, NC location no longer had a menu for people on the gluten free diet, but it did still carry gluten free pasta. It is unclear if this is a nation-wide change or maybe just for a few franchises. I have an email and tweet out to the company and will update this post when I get an official answer.
What was also interesting is that pizza places are apparently doing just fine. So what does it all mean? Is gluten free really to blame? Good question. I hope to get a little more insight in a future post.