The future of free-from in indie retail

26 January 2023, 09:56 AM
  • Far from being a passing trend, free-from diets are rising in popularity and indie retailers have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd
The future of free-from in indie retail

While vegans and coeliacs make up just 2-3% of the population, it is not just these groups who regularly purchase free-from products. A third of Brits consider themselves to be flexitarian and regularly opt for vegan or vegetarian choices – while 15% avoid gluten. But what does the free-from market look like in 2023, and what should indies be stocking to hit the trends?

An evolving market
As we enter 2023, consumers are increasingly looking for healthier options that still pack a punch, and mindfully opting for free-from. 

As Philip Linardos, CEO of digital wholesaler ShelfNow, explains, “Over the last two years we have seen increasing demand from our buyers for vegan and free-from foods that are gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free. Over the past six months, we have seen a steady rise in sales of free-from products and this increase in sales figure has been at 8.47%.

“As we enter 2023, we predict that the dairy-free market in particular will continue to grow as a wave of NPD hits the market and an increasing number of consumers opt for dairy-free products over traditional dairy. We also see the refined sugar-free trend gaining traction in the coming months. 

“More and more consumers are making more mindful choices and they are looking for ways to cut down on high-fat and high-sugar foods. We see the increasing popularity of the free-from-foods market as a sign that people are becoming more conscious about their health.”

Far from a passing trend, free-from diets are only gaining traction and they certainly aren’t free-from flavour. “We believe that the ‘Ketogenic’ diet is here to stay and not just another fad. It is being adopted by a lot more people, and it’s not just the younger generation who are interested in eating more healthy foods”, Matthew Chiles, UK and EU sales manager at Gourmet Partners for free-from brand Olina’s Bakehouse, adds.

In fact, while previously free-from products were only chosen by those who had specific dietary requirements, now the majority of consumers are interested in trying something new. 

According to Ellie Gunn, chilled buyer at Cotswold Fayre, “Free-from products have become mainstream, consumers are no longer just buying free-from products out of necessity but through choice with environmental impact and health benefits in mind. 

“We are more aware of ingredients which may cause a reaction in people with food allergies or intolerances and through offering a wide range of products which cater to these dietary requirements retailers can support consumers in their journey to better health.”

Matthew agrees, “There is a growing number of consumers who select free-from products, not necessarily because they have strict dietary needs, but because they are choosing to include keto, low carb, or gluten-free products as part of a more balanced routine. 

“Similar to the growth of the vegan sector over recent years, free-from products are no longer seen as a marginalised sub-sector of the shopping basket anymore and have become part of the mainstream.”

Free-from in fine food
Vegan and gluten-free products may not seem synonymous with fine food retail on the surface, as Ellie explains, “Although we are seeing a rise in popularity, we haven’t yet seen huge demand for vegan and free-from products. 

“Farms shops and delis aren’t destinations for these types of products yet, however, with more consumers now following a flexitarian diet it’s important to offer a strong range of vegan and free-from alternatives to keep up with growing consumer demand.”

According to Philip, “There has been an explosion of free-from-food launches by brands of all sizes over the past decade but we are seeing some of the most exciting NPD from smaller, independent brands like our partners.” 

With smaller, artisan producers starting to make an impact in the sector, there is certainly an opportunity for fine food retailers to stand out with their offerings. 

One example is Garofalo, whose 12-strong range of high-quality gluten-free pasta is popular amongst shoppers. Speaking to Speciality Food, Sally Assinder, UK marketing manager at Garofalo, comments, “We have the popular shapes like fusilli, penne and spaghetti in the range, but we also have more unusual gluten-free pasta shapes providing choice for anyone needing to or wishing to follow a gluten-free diet. 

“We get feedback from customers who discover Garofalo gluten-free pasta telling us how thrilled they are to have the choice of pasta shapes they once enjoyed, plus a product that tastes like ‘normal’ pasta.”

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