Research suggests that between 20–30% of consumers self-identify as having some form of food allergy or sensitivity and demand for allergy-safe foods is growing. European Union regulations require restaurants to inform diners of the presence of 14 primary food allergens. The method of disclosure, however, is left to the discretion of the restaurant and may include verbal communication, menu labels, or separate informational pamphlets. Despite these requirements, 74% of allergen related food incidents arise from the non-prepackaged (restaurant) environment. Individuals with allergens, therefore, may avoid restaurants or intentionally seek out, especially in the tourism context, venues with publicly disclosed allergen prevention protocols. Due to group effects and social media's ability to channel consumers, implementing allergy-friendly practices could substantially increase restaurant profits. This research examines the performance of the restaurant industry in leading tourist destinations in Croatia with respect to self-disclosure of potential food allergens. Menus, accompanying websites and social media reviews of 973 restaurants across 43 locations were analyzed. Results indicate that very few restaurants have taken affirmative steps to disclose food allergens on their websites (1.3% of English and 0.8% of Croatian websites). Of the subset of restaurants with on-line menus, 6.5% disclosed specific food allergens. In contrast, third-party social media reviews of 24.6% of the restaurants included some statement relating to food allergens. Based on the results, this paper suggests strategies for improved food allergen communication. Specifically, restaurants should make greater efforts to affirmatively disclose allergen information on their websites and monitor social media reviews. Very few restaurants responded to consumer comments, thereby allowing others to dictate the narrative. In light of the strong consumer interest and relatively weak self-disclosure efforts, the hospitality industry has a ready opportunity to attract new consumers by moving beyond regulatory minimums through enhanced allergen communication efforts and social media engagement.
- food allergy
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management