Welcome to The Grocery Trader’s ‘The Lite Stuff’ feature, looking at Low, No and Free From products. For a generation now UK multiple grocers have been stocking a selection of ‘lite’ food and drink items offering shoppers ‘Low/No’ alternatives in terms of reduced contents of fat, salt, sugar and other components, plus ‘free from’ options helping avoid particular ingredients.

chazOne of the most important ‘free from’ product categories in UK grocery is gluten free. Once confined to health stores, ’GF’ has been gaining distribution in supermarkets. Kathryn Miller is Food Policy Lead at Coeliac UK, the world’s oldest and largest coeliac disease charity. She gave The Grocery Trader her insight into the state of play in this key sector.

“For people with coeliac disease, eating gluten causes damage to the lining of the gut resulting in malabsorption of nutrients from food, and the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life. A common frustration to following a gluten-free diet is accessing gluten-free foods where and when people need them.

The gluten-free landscape has changed significantly over the last 20 years, Kathryn continues: “We have seen significant expansion in the range of gluten-free products available as well as dramatic improvements in quality. People diagnosed with coeliac disease a long time ago will remember bread in a tin, yet today consumers are faced with a wide variety of breads, biscuits, pasta, breakfast cereals, crackers and cakes in the Free From aisles of most of the major supermarkets.

But as Kathryn points out, shopping for gluten-free products can still be time-consuming and frustrating: “While availability in larger supermarkets has significantly improved, people who only have access to small supermarkets or convenience stores potentially have to search farther afield for even those most basic gluten-free items such as fresh bread.”

In a survey last year, 74% of Coeliac UK members said they needed to visit more than one supermarket to complete their shopping. Also, 86% of surveyed members said they preferred to see Free From products in a dedicated aisle rather than dispersed throughout the store.

Cost is also an issue with shoppers requiring a gluten-free diet. The difference in price between gluten-free and their gluten-containing equivalents is significantly different with gluten-free staple foods like fresh bread still selling for three or four times the price of a standard loaf.

Coeliac UK launched their Gluten-free Guarantee campaign last year asking stores to guarantee a basket of eight core gluten-free items to be stocked in each of their stores. “We were pleased,” Kathryn reports, “to see the major retailers committed to meeting the guarantee with ASDA the first to sign up in September, and Waitrose, Tesco and Marks & Spencer making significant progress.”

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