Where once food was merely fuel to get you through the day, now, the body is a temple and consumers want what they eat to reflect that. Customers are looking for food that is low in sugar, fat and carbs, and complies with a free from ethic; and grab & go and casual dining outlets are responding in kind. Catherine Chetwynd reports

Natural, wholesome ingredients are winning the day and cater for a raft of consumer requirements, whether as core ingredients for dishes or in sauces, toppings and fillings. “Clean eating goes hand in hand with catering for a variety of dietary needs, from gluten or dairy free to vegetarian,” says sales director, Bannisters’ Farm Marie Medhurst. “This reduces the need for separate foods, preparation areas and cooking implements.”

The company’s frozen roast potatoes and filled potato skins lead the way with no coating or batter and have been joined by baked sweet potatoes and sweet potato skins. “This will help caterers make the most of the growing demand for sweet potatoes, with their high fibre and relatively low glycaemic index value,” she says.

Bakers used to find it tough to provide tasty and tempting gluten-free foods but those ingredients have come a long way since then. In its commitment to cleaner eating, Dawn is moving its products by category towards natural flavours and colour, and is introducing cleaner ingredient lists, all under the banner Project Sunrise. In addition, “We now offer sustainably sourced UTZ cocoa in some of our chocolate items, including Dawn’s Chocolate Brownie mixes, and we are RSPO certified for sustainable palm oil,” says marketing manager UK and Ireland Jacqui Passmore.

And in response to consumer demand, it relaunched its fruit fillings range with a higher fruit content rather than refined sugar. “We are featuring named origin fruits such as Jonagold apples, Senga Sengana strawberries and Canadian blueberries, reflecting consumer interest in food provenance,” she says. “Customers are better travelled and year-round fresh produce sourcing in retail means we are more familiar with unusual fruits and varieties,” says Passmore.

Customers are also starting to want gluten-free food as a lifestyle choice and Pidy is moving in this direction. “We are delighted to have perfected the recipe for gluten-free pastry, using the latest ingredients and processes to achieve the required taste and texture,” says national account manager – foodservice Fabien Levet. The supplier’s gluten-free pastry cases come in sweet or neutral and 5cm or 8.5cm sizes, making them ideal for quiches, tarts, canapés or puddings. “And the gluten-free range has the same great taste as our traditional pastry,” he says.

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Specialising in gluten-free bars, bites and granolas is Primal Joy, whose hand-made products are free from grains, soy, trans fats and refined sugar and contain healthy ingredients such as nuts, berries, coconut, honey and cacao. “There is a growing movement of consumers who select foods that fit their lifestyle,” says founder Sarah Mace. “They will examine the social and environmental impact, as well as process and provenance of an item.”

Simplicity is also the byword of ProToGo, whose high protein meal boxes are filled with vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products that are delivered straight from the farm and are cooked, steamed or baked. The company does not use whey powder, which can be made using a complex chemical process, and uses only peanut butter that does not contain palm or other oils. “The simpler the process, the less ingredients are messed about and the cleaner the result,” says founder Valérie Aelbrecht.

Young’s Omega 3 Fish Fingers combine the healthy properties of fish, high in protein and vitamins, and are free from wheat, gluten and milk. For added convenience, they can be cooked straight from the freezer. Similarly, Young’s The Ultimate Fishcake is filled with MSC Alaska Pollock mince, coated in oven-baked crumb and is free from wheat, gluten and milk.

Drinks also contribute to clean living and Genius Drinks’ Botonique is a soft beverage aimed at wine lovers but without grapes or alcohol. It claims to replace the nutrients that alcohol depletes, is low in carbs and calories and contains no added sugar.

Making drinks from scratch adds theatre to the process and draws in customers, who can see that fresh ingredients are going into the product. Nisbets CN990 Santos Cold Press Juicer is the first counter-top commercial cold press juicer on the market and cold press juicing retains the maximum quantity of vitamins, nutrients, enzymes and minerals in the ingredients.

A wide chute allows whole fruits and vegetables to be pressed with no pre-cutting and a hydraulic action ensures maximum juice extraction. The CN990 can process up to 40 litres per hour.

As customers demand quality, pure ingredients that are of traceable provenance and have been altered little in the processing, it is time for outlets to get clean and mean.