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Q&A: Paul Antico,

Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., president and founder of Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm, interviews Paul Antico, Founder of The father of five was a former mutual fund manager who now spends time as a full-time advocate for the food allergy community.

The interview has been edited for length, and the full story can be seen at Healthy Dining’s Restaurant Nutrition News & Insights.

Paul, I really admire your tenacity and commitment to a very important health issue that I know touches you deeply. Tell us about your journey to help your kids and all those who suffer from food allergies.

I had a really successful investment management career for 17 years, but all that wasn’t as important as my kids. Three of my five kids have severe food allergies, and I reached the point where I wanted to dedicate the same energy and drive that I had channeled into making money for others into helping make sure my kids, and other food-allergic families, could enjoy a higher quality of life. So I retired from the investment industry to give Allergy Eats 100 percent.

Tell us about

I launched Allergy Eats in February 2010. The site provides those with food allergies an objective, peer-based format to find allergy-friendly restaurants and avoid those that don’t measure up. Right now, Allergy Eats lists over 600,000 restaurants nationwide, which site visitors can rate. The site also offers information on restaurant menus, including gluten-free menus, allergen lists, nutrition information, certifications, web links, directions, and more. … The overwhelmingly positive response to the site demonstrates that AllergyEats is meeting a tremendous need in the food allergy community.

How did you know that this was the right choice for you and your family?

One weekend my wife was out of town, and I decided to take the kids out to eat. I took them to Bertucci’s because they are great about preparing meals for my kids who have allergies. But, Bertucci’s had an hour and half wait, and there was no way my kids could handle that. We were driving around and couldn’t find a restaurant that I could count on. My kids were upset, and I was overwhelmed.

It was that night that I knew I wanted to help find a solution to eliminate the aggravation and fear my family was experiencing each time we wanted to go out to eat. I thought, if Bertucci’s can do this, any restaurant could.

You have developed a case in which you can show that restaurants investing in a high quality allergen strategy will reap a reasonable ROI. Is that right?

It is. My whole career was based on ROI, so I know that financial benefit is a very important consideration for restaurants. Not only will an allergy-friendly restaurant eliminate the “veto vote”, but it will also increase its profits.

Can you explain your strategy?

There are about 15 million people in the United States who have food allergies or diagnosed Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance). Assume 20 percent of those don’t feel comfortable eating out, and another 20 percent will eat out anywhere regardless of whether the restaurant is allergy friendly. That leaves about 60 percent (9 million people) who will spend money in restaurants only if they feel that the meals are safe. I’ve made a conservative assumption that a new ‘food allergy’ customer will bring only two others to a restaurant that caters to those with special dietary needs. Therefore, if 3 percent of the public is the target market of potential new food-allergic customers, then the total revenue opportunity grows to a 9 percent or greater potential increase for an allergy-friendly restaurant when considering the additional people they bring to the restaurant.

Ok, we’re following your analysis.

Good, here’s where it gets interesting. Assume a casual dining chain averages roughly $2 million in sales per restaurant annually. For each sales dollar, say the restaurant earns a 15 percent profit, but for each additional sales dollar, the restaurant will earn 25 percent or more since many fixed costs are already covered. Therefore, a 9 percent increase in sales at a typical casual-dining chain earning $300,000 per year would increase revenues by $180,000 per year with an additional $45,000 or more in annual profits. I’m confident that this is just as applicable to smaller, independent restaurants as it is to large chains.

I’m sure that those with food allergies make up a very loyal market segment that can help restaurants if they provide an “allergy friendly” environment.

Yes, I know firsthand as the father of children with food allergies that I avoid restaurants that won’t accommodate my kids’ special dietary requirement. Through, I hear from others within the food-allergy community every day that feel the same way. The feedback is clear – if a restaurant has food allergy protocols in place, a trained and knowledgeable staff, and a respect for the needs of this community, food-allergic diners and their parties will be loyal to that restaurant.

I know you think Bertucci’s serves their food-allergic customers well. Are there others?

Yes, Disney is the gold standard. We just vacationed in Orlando for a week and my kids were treated so well. You can read my blog about our trip at P.F. Chang’s is phenomenal in their methods to please guests with allergies, too. So is Legal Sea Foods, and a local restaurant in Boston called Blue Ginger. Another local standout is the regional chain Not Your Average Joe’s, which has a sparkling 4.9 out of 5.0 customer-based AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating.

Thanks, Paul for sharing this information.

About Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H.
Anita founded Healthy Dining with a vision and dedication to contribute to a healthier America by “bringing together the culinary brilliance of the restaurant industry with America’s growing quest for great-tasting, healthier cuisine.” She is a nationally recognized authority bringing to market innovative nutrition-related strategies and solutions to enable the restaurant industry to prosper while helping to educate and empower Americans to enjoy healthier cuisine. Anita earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health from San Diego State University.

Contact Anita Jones-Muller at [email protected].

TAGS: Food Trends
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