Macphie insight | The 'Free from' flourish

‘Free from’ is a term coined to describe foods manufactured and targeted specifically at consumers who suffer from food intolerances or who are following avoidance diets. For example, free from gluten or free from dairy.

Once hard to come by, retail sales of free from products were valued at £470m in 2015 and are projected to increase by 43% to £673m by 2020 (Mintel). With heightened consumer awareness in what we eat, where it comes from and what it contains, the free from market presents a host of opportunities requiring investment in research and new product development from suppliers.

Gluten free

We’ve seen a surge in free from products on shop shelves with gluten free being the most prevalent. Coeliac disease, a digestive condition which causes an adverse reaction to gluten, affects 1 in 100 people in the UK. However, research shows that it’s not necessarily health risks that are driving the gluten free trend. It’s reported that 75% of users are choosing free from products for reasons unrelated to food allergies/intolerances and 36% of consumers eat gluten free products because it makes them feel better. Weight loss is another key driver with 19% of consumers opting for gluten free foods because they are trying to lose weight. However, hitting the shelves at a higher price than the originals, gluten free products remain a luxury item to many without a diagnosed condition.

Dairy free

Research shows that 11% of UK adults avoid dairy with 50% of this total avoiding dairy as part of maintaining a perceived healthy lifestyle, not due to an intolerance.

‘Reduced’ or ‘low’ claims

As well as free from, we’re witnessing an increase in demand for ‘reduced’ or ‘low’ claims. Primarily driven by government lead initiatives and media attention around sugar and salt content, consumers are more aware of their intake and make an effort to source healthier alternatives. According to research, 54% of consumers are looking for lower sugar content in foods and 77% of consumers are in favour of manufacturers reducing sugar content.

Impact on the consumer

While only a small percentage of consumers are diagnosed with food intolerances, the impact on their buying habits is considerable. Since the government introduced the EU Food Information for Consumers (EU FIC), in December 2014, consumers have reported that their eating out experiences have improved as takeaways and restaurants are now required, by law, to provide customers with allergen information.

Research shows that 51% reported an increase in availability of special allergy menus for customers since the introduction of EU FIC. However, 68% of consumers still noted experiences of restaurant/takeaway staff lacking knowledge of menu content and 70% of staff not full understanding the severity of some allergies and how easily a mistake can cause a reaction (Food Standards Agency).

Transparency from supplier to end user and clarity of information is imperative for catering to this ever growing market, but we can see from the research that it’s not a market to be ignored. There is considerable opportunity to expand within this area to meet demand.

For allergen information on all Macphie products, please contact your account manager or call customer services on 0800 085 8900.