The lite shines on -Free from, low, no alternatives blooming in UK grocery

They probably wouldn’t have thought it possible back in the 1980s and 90’s but low, no and free from options to “mainstream” foods are gaining prominence on Britain’s grocery shelves and consumers are snapping them up.
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The popular perception of products with low, no or reduced contents of particular ingredients used to be that these were pale imitations of the “full blooded” version and would necessarily taste inferior to the real thing. This has gradually been replaced in the public consciousness by the belief that even if we aren’t overweight or have medical problems, we should all watch our intake of the naughties, along with a commitment to regular exercise. As part of this we should consume lite versions of products wherever possible.

It was a widely held belief that all the pleasure of the rich taste of foods came from their fat content. Very lean cuts of meat were available in stores, but were widely thought of as not worth bothering with unless you were concerned about heart health. Now even tasteenhancing products like coconut milk, mayonnaise and salad dressing are all available in lighter versions.

The other factor was retail distribution and merchandising. Two decades ago low, no and free from products were either confined to health food shops or if supermarkets stocked them, most of the time they placed them away from the main fixture for their category and it was a mission to find them. The price of a gluten free loaf was around three times one made with ordinary flour. Since then as retail distribution has improved, the prices have come down.

The Lite Stuff is now embedded in our culture, inspiring popular TV programmes about fasting. Doctor Michael Mosley, with his gentle voice and unassuming manner, had his first huge success in 2013 with the 5:2 intermittent diet. This had millions of Brits of both sexes committing to five days of normal eating and two days of 600 calories for men and 500 for women. Michael Mosley’s new ‘hit’ is the 8-week blood sugar diet, aimed not just at diabetics but everyone concerned about their blood sugar.

The core of the “Lite Stuff” consumer base still remains products that are allergy free, but the broader audience is widening daily. Lactose, gluten and nuts are three of the main food types concerned and the effects of intolerance to these substances can be severe, in extreme cases including anaphylactic shock. Given allergic people’s heightened sensitivity to these substances, food manufacturers have been advising caution on their labeling for a number of years and low, no and free from have become attractive product claims for marketers dreaming up new products.

Meanwhile in 2016 increasing numbers of people in the mainstream are becoming aware that the sleepiness they feel at their desk after lunch is a side effect of the gluten content in their sandwiches and are turning from bread to pitta bread, wraps and crackers. Whether they go on from there to switch to gluten free, time will tell. But it’s possible.