I normally write my blog for food allergy moms & families, but in the spirit of food allergy awareness month, I thought I would change my focus, just a little. In case you didn’t know, I have a business degree and I love everything to do with business. If you looked at my podcast library you might even decide that I’m a bit of a business geek. So I love the idea of using my business & food allergy knowledge to explain how focusing on serving the food allergy population can and will help businesses like yours!
Why Food allergies are important to businesses
For this post, I’m focusing on businesses that handle food and/or serve families or kids. This might include family attractions, playgroups, birthday party locations, pre-schools, summer camps, ice-cream shops, private schools, kids cooking schools, craft/pottery studios, adventure parks, and more.
If you own a business like this you likely come across food allergies on a regular basis. Because of this, you might feel a bit pressured and a little fearful about HOW to implement proper food allergy procedures in your business. I get it. It’s a lot of responsibility and does take some planning and adjustments. BUT IT CAN BE DONE! Not only can it be done, but food allergies NEED to be addressed properly in your business because they're not going away any time soon. Since you have to handle food allergies properly ANYWAY, you might want to think about how you can actually use them as a competitive advantage and increase your profits while you’re at it.
Impact of Food Allergies on Businesses
Two and a half million Canadians are self-reported to have food allergies. Out of that, almost 500,000 Canadian kids have food allergies. That’s almost 8% of the population under 18 years old. The numbers for the US are similar, but on a larger scale. So how does this number affect a company who is serving the under 18 age demographic? Here are a few ways:
Direct Loss of Business
First of all, there’s the DIRECT impact. This means that if you don’t install confidence in the food allergy moms/decision makers, you will miss out on approx. 8 kids out of every 100 right away.
An example of this happened to us just this week. My hubby’s family has a tradition that they go to a certain restaurant after their first communion, and our niece will be celebrating her first communion in a few weeks. Because of that, I called the restaurant to check how they handle peanut & tree nut allergies and gluten intolerances. Although the restaurant acknowledged food allergies and said they could prepare the meal in another location away from other meals that might have peanuts, nuts or gluten, they use ingredients with “may contain statements”. I learned early on that food with a label that states “may contain” an allergen is not safe. Unfortunately, when I asked whether we can omit items that “may contain peanuts or nuts”, they said no. Needless to say, with heavy hearts our family has decided not to go to the celebration because the restaurant does not know how to handle food allergies properly. For us, it means missing a much-loved family celebration. For the restaurant, it means 4 heads less that evening (and other evenings); and if we had been the hosts, they would have lost the WHOLE party.
Indirect Loss of Business
Many times, there are multiple kids in a family. When this is the case, food allergy families will usually base their decisions on keeping the child with food allergies safe. Which means if you don’t display food allergy knowledge and awareness, you will also lose the family members associated with that food allergy child.
For example: If you run a kid’s day camp, you will likely lose ALL the kids in that family as customers since parents prefer to use the same company so they’re not having to drive all over town for drop offs and pickups.
To illustrate this point, here are the results of a poll taken recently in the closed group of food allergy moms called Friendly Pantry Food Allergy Community Canada.
So now you’re not only losing the business of the child with food allergies but their siblings as well. If you happen to cater to WHOLE families, like an adventure park, you’re now losing the business of the WHOLE family (and don’t forget the friends/family that they would likely meet up with at the park).
Long-term Business Gain:
If a food allergy family finds a company that serves them well, they will come back; time and time again. Why? Because as Richard Kestenbaum, contributor for forbes.com says:
“True loyalty results from an understanding of customer needs, respecting customers, offering products that are relevant and good customer experiences that people enjoy and make them want to come back again"... “The result of loyalty is that customers continue to purchase and recommend a company to their friends."
Not only that, because there is a limited number of companies serving food allergy families well, you have less competition to fight for this market which means less advertising costs. In fact, you may even gain this market using the same advertising budget you already have.
For example, a well-known Canadian airline recently announced they would be serving nuts in their Plus section. We’ll call this airline “X”. The reaction from nut-allergy families included comments like:
“This is super upsetting. We would always book “X” (even if it meant a higher price) because they were always so allergy aware. They will not be our first choice anymore.”
“This is super disappointing. We always went out of our way to fly “X” because they were so allergy friendly and accommodating, even if their flight was more expensive or less convenient.”
These comments show that when a company treats food allergy families well, they will indeed continue to use that company, even if it’s less convenient and more expensive.
Word of Mouth Advertisement
Because people trust their friends and family more than marketing, word of mouth is one of the most profitable, yet elusive types of advertising. What gets customers to tell their friends about your company? According to Pamela N. Danziger a contributor at Forbes it means:
“stepping outside your comfort zone and into your customers’ delight zone. It’s where they feel you have done something truly, uniquely, personally special for them.”
I can’t tell you how special food allergy moms & parents feel when they find a company that truly caters to their child’s needs. By serving food allergy families well, you are doing “something truly, uniquely, personally special for them” and food allergy families will be the customers that will tell people about it! For example, when on vacation last summer, I did my research to find allergy-safe bakeries at our destination using some of the many Facebook food allergy support groups. After hearing other mom's recommendations, we specifically travelled to each recommended bakery during our trip (and went to one more than once)!
As a food allergy mom & consultant myself who likes to travel and explore the safe options available to us, I can tell you there are not a lot of companies who are “delighting” food allergy customers at the moment. Because of this, you can be one of the first to scoop up this market.
How Can Businesses Serve the Food Allergy Market Well?
This may be easier than you think. Many food allergy parents are looking for a few key things:
- Willingness to be transparent when it comes to food, ingredients and processes. This includes understanding labelling laws and how they affect food allergies & your business.
- That staff take food allergies seriously & can answer questions about how food allergies will be handled (in some cases, this can be a manager who is alerted by another staff member and comes to talk to the customer).
- There is a knowledge of cross-contact with allergens and how to decrease the chances of it happening in your specific business.
- There is a knowledge of the signs of anaphylaxis and what to do if it happens. This is ESPECIALLY important if you run a business where the parents are not present with their kids like a day camp.
In general, food allergy moms & families just want to feel confident that your business has taken solid steps to keep their kids from ingesting their allergen, and that you’ll know exactly what to do if the allergen IS ingested. After that, your business needs to communicate this awareness to food allergy families so they can trust you and feel that special experience so they come back again and again.
The path to food allergy knowledge and using it properly is unique to each business, but I encourage you to work on it NOW before you find you’re the last in your market.
If you own or run a business that serves families and kids and want to find out how to serve food allergy families well AND how to improve your business revenue (while keeping costs low), I can help!
Click HERE to schedule a free 30 min call to discuss! I’ll help you flush out the numbers to see if and how your business can benefit!