Feature Article - October 2007
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Food For Thought

Simple Menu Changes for Special Diets

By Stacy St. Clair

Dollar hot dog nights don't get Jana Simone out to the stadium. The churro stand doesn't entice her, either. In fact, she doesn't even go near the concession stands at sporting events. "I don't even plan on eating if I am going to a game," she said. "I eat before I go because I assume there's nothing there I can eat."

Simone has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that causes an inability to digest wheat. That means she can't eat traditional ballpark fare like hot dogs on buns, chicken strips and personal pan pizzas.

She represents a significant segment of the North American population that has special dietary needs. Whether for health, religious or moral reasons, people are paying a lot more attention to their diets. Progressive concessionaires must recognize this trend if they want to be respectful to both their patrons and their profits.

"Ballpark concession stands are very hard places for some people to eat," said Simone, who is on the board of directors of the California-based Celiac Disease Foundation. "Any effort to make them more accessible would be hugely appreciated."

Roughly 11 million Americans suffer from some type of food allergy, some so severe they can lead to anaphylactic shock, a severe, even life-threatening reaction. And millions of others are making the effort to eat healthier in order to enjoy fuller and longer-lasting lives.

According to a recent survey by the American Dietetic Association, U.S. consumers are more conscious than ever before about what they eat. For example, 38 percent of Americans have made adjustments in their eating patterns to become healthier eaters. That's 10 percentage points higher than in a 2000 study.

As society's eating habits evolve, concession stands must adapt, or they'll soon find themselves running a dangerous deficit. There's no question it would be difficult—if not impossible—to fulfill every single patron's dietary needs. Still, it's imperative that concessionaires be as flexible and creative as possible. In addition to being the ethically responsible thing to do, it's also the most financially sound move. By ignoring changes in eating habits, concessions risk losing customers and dollars.

"It's getting more and more difficult for concession stands to say, 'We've got something for everyone,'" said Mary Schluckebier, executive director of the Celiac Sprue Association. "It's important that they tell us what items they have and then let us make our own decisions."

Clearly, no concession stand can cater to every dietary requirement. But there are several needs to consider, as well as easy ways to make your snack bar a delicious option for the vast majority of your patrons.

"Never underestimate that the demand is there," said Johanna McCloy, the founder of Soy Happy, a vegetarian advocacy group. "Often there's a lot of lost revenue because people can't be vocal."