Many of us try to live healthily, but some shoppers are distinctly more concerned about it than others. One such group is the burgeoning tribe of Britain’s free-from shoppers.
Free-from foods are defined as foods manufactured and targeted specifically at consumers who suffer from food intolerance and/or food allergies, or follow avoidance diets. This includes foods specially produced for a gluten-free diet, such as pasta and bread. Foods targeted at intolerance and allergy sufferers include Wheat-free, gluten-free and Dairy-free/lactose-free.
The UK free-from market continues to record impressive growth, according to Mintel. Having doubled in value since 2009 to £365m in 2014, the market is forecast to grow over 50% more by 2019. Both dairy-free/lactose-free and gluten-free/wheat-free are currently recording impressive year on year growth of 15%. That said, the UK lags behind the US, suggesting British operators have plenty of room to grow further, despite concerns of saturation.
Two decades ago a loaf of gluten-free bread could set you back £7, as against £1.40 for a oven-fresh loaf. In those days gluten free was very much a special need, and people asked their doctors to prescribe products. The growth in sales since then comes down to consumers who do not need to avoid gluten for medical reasons choosing to cut it out of their diet because they feel better without it. The gluten-free market is now at the point where it reputedly saw the highest number of product launches of any food category last year.
As the free-from market develops, there is a growing trend for manufacturers to flag mainstream products as free from wheat or gluten, even though this is not the main selling point of the product. In our era of caution over product labels, various mainstream foods are labelled ‘gluten-free’ which would never reasonably be expected to contain gluten in the first place. To the sceptical observer, it’s reminiscent of the wild days of product labeling, when the words ‘additive free’ and ‘unbleached’ appeared on all manner of items.
The future of these products is very much in the hands of the grocery retailers and how they decide to merchandise them. They used to languish in supermarkets’ specialist food sections, and consumers had to hunt them down. Many of these foods are now coming in from the cold to sit alongside their conventional counterparts, giving consumers more choice and boosting awareness and trial and purchase.