Free-From 101

07 January 2016, 15:55 PM
  • Britain's spotlight is set firmly upon the free-from sector. Robin Goldsmith investigates a growing industry
Free-From 101

Free-from foods are manufactured and targeted specifically at consumers who suffer from a food intolerance, allergy or food-related autoimmune condition. The latter includes 1% of the UK population affected by coeliac disease (Coeliac UK). Additionally, these foods are often relevant for people following selective avoidance diets. The range of products covered comprises those free from gluten, wheat, lactose or dairy, but may also exclude ingredients such as eggs, nuts or soya.

Having doubled in size between 2009 and 2014, the UK free-from market is now worth around £365 million, and nearly 40% of households contain someone avoiding specific foods or ingredients (Mintel). However, there is an almost even split between those people avoiding foods on medical grounds and those doing so for lifestyle reasons. With increasing celebrity endorsement of gluten-free diets and media attention directed towards healthy eating, there has been a sharp rise in new gluten-free products (10% of food and drink product launches between 2012 and 2014, according to Mintel). Furthermore, the new allergen labelling legislation has increased awareness. As a result, there is plenty of scope within the speciality food sector to offer quality products that take advantage of this growing trend.

Baked goods are particularly significant, and the growing popularity of both paleolithic and vegan diets means that offering plant-based dairy-free options has gained greater relevance. While new flavour combinations will attract speciality food consumers, traditional products retain strong appeal.

There are many reasons for the speciality food sector to stock free-from products, not least because the market is set to grow a further 51% between 2014 and 2019 (Mintel). Consumers avoiding ingredients such as gluten for medical reasons, as well as health-conscious ‘lifestylers’, those who prefer to scratch-cook and people searching for flavour variety are all targets for this sector.

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