A new survey by Cambridge Market Research has found that confusion and misunderstanding reigns supreme amongst consumers of the fast-growing “Free From” sector.

The category has seen huge growth in the past five years and gluten-free product sales alone reached £184 million in the UK last year.


Cambridge Market Research found that clearer labelling and definition of the Free From category could help demystify the sector for consumers. The study also demonstrated there was still a long way for the industry to go in providing quality products to satisfy the needs of category buyers.

A total of 476 medically diagnosed coeliacs and 211 consumers who regularly bought Free From products were surveyed by Cambridge Market Research. The quantitative survey was also supplemented by qualitative interviews to get to the heart of the confusion in the category and to provide robust insights following face-to-face discussions.

Paul Beresford, Managing Director at Cambridge Market Research, said: “As we are a dedicated research consultancy, we successfully accessed this hard-to-reach group of niche consumers.”

Cambridge Market Research discovered:

  • In product terms, the depth, breadth and quality of Free From products is expanding.
  • Consumers of Free From are looking to be treated as ‘normal’ rather than a ‘special case’.
  • Despite new regulations in restaurants, eating out remains a key challenge for anyone with a restricted diet – and the food service industry is not yet up to speed with their requirements. More than three-quarters are fearful of cross-contamination and the same proportion lack trust in restaurant staff.
  • Coeliacs’ perceptions of Free From products are not always positive, with more than half considering them processed.
  • The group of 211 consumers – called lifestylers by Cambridge Market Research – are not medically diagnosed so determining what motivates them is crucial to evaluating the longevity of their engagement in and commitment to the category.

Paul Beresford added: “Additional segmentation analysis was made into our lifestyler respondents, which uncovered a further four groups. These ranged from those most committed to the category – those who were medically driven – to the younger health conscious, the older health conscious and the ethical foodies.

“One thing is certain: there is a need for greater transparency across the category including improving the product offer and facilitating the eating out process both for consumers and food outlets.”

  • Cambridge Market Research has been utilising its unrivalled experience of markets and consumers for the benefit of clients for more than 30 years.
  • Cambridge Market Research’s clients include market research and insight teams, as well as NPD and marketing directors, brand managers and managing directors.
  • The Cambridge Market Research team includes individuals with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including Food and Drink, Retail, Consumer Package Goods, Sensory, International, Automotive and Public Sector. Its project teams are tailored to ensure that clients benefit from those with the most relevant skills and experience.
  • Cambridge Market Research is headed by industry expert Paul Beresford, who is available for media interviews.
  • Based in Cambridge, the company offers UK-wide network of interviewers and respondents, including hard-to-reach groups. Visit www.cambridgemr.com for more information.

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