SAGE Dining Services, an FM Top 50 firm specializing in serving the independent school and college markets in North America, has launched its newest station concept, Free Style, which features menu items that are free of the dozen most common food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, gluten, egg, fish, wheat, sesame, soy, mustard, and sulfites.
Food allergy awareness has always been an important tenet of SAGE’s principles. The company deployed an online menu allergen filter more than five years ago to help students and staff with food allergies enjoy safe and nutritious meals, and it does not serve peanuts, tree nuts, or products with them in any of the schools at which it operates unless a client specifically requests them. The company also has a team of Registered Dietitians who review each recipe and menu, tag ingredients for allergens and ensure there is a variety of allergen-free options available. Now, with the addition of the Free Style station, SAGE can also provide a sense of inclusivity so individuals with allergies can feel welcomed and part of the community, not excluded.
“Managing food allergies day after day can be hard,” says SAGE Vice President of Food and Nutrition Lesley Vogel. “Think about it: Every time you eat a meal, you need to check information or ask questions to make sure it doesn't contain the ingredients you're allergic to. The coolest thing about Free Style is that it eliminates that burden for those who have the most common food allergies. It's a quick go-to option that they know will be safe without having to check.”
According to a 2021-22 survey, 9.2% of the students SAGE serves have a common food allergy, which equates to about one of every 11 students, statistics in line with the national average determined by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). For these students, the Free Style station offers a safe dining alternative while also allowing those with common allergies to build their plates safely and more easily.
In addition, Free Style features complete top allergen-free meals that everyone can enjoy, not just those with food allergies, helping create awareness about food allergies in the process. Based on feedback from a SAGE beta test, many people said they were “very likely” to eat at the station again and appreciated the quality of the food and the clear messaging. Choices include kid-friendly favorites ranging from tacos and breakfast for lunch to popular classics like chicken noodle soup.
SAGE Dining was founded in 1990 and currently serves some 275 clients, generating $250 million in revenues last year. Founders Paco and Tina Rodriguez won the 2022 IFMA Silver Plate Award in the Business & Industry/Foodservice Management category for their success in building the company into a leader in serving the independent school and college markets.