The growth of free from

Natural Grocery Buyer spoke to SFFF15 about the growing 'free from' trend.

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From dairy-free milks to gluten-free breads, the free from sector continues to grow year upon year. According to data from Kantar Worldpanel, the free from sector was valued at £358.5 million last year and has grown to £455million – an increase of 26.9% year on year. And in its 2014 Food and Drink report, Waitrose stated that sales of dairy-free and wheat-free food products had increased by 22%.

Whereas free from products were once seen as niche items, bought mostly by those with food intolerances or allergies, more and more consumers are now switching to free from products for health reasons. Free from diets, such as vegan, raw and paleo, are becoming increasingly popular, helped by endorsements from celebrities such as Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow. The gluten-free market in particular has enjoyed a boom in recent years. It is currently estimated to be worth £238 million annually and growing at 15% per year, according to the Food Standards Agency. 

“Product developers and ingredients firms have been working very hard in recent years, allowing gluten-free foods to take strides in terms of palatability and presentation,” comments Simone Baroke, contributing analyst with Euromonitor. “As a result, there is plenty of fancy gluten-free fare on supermarket shelves, such as cakes and biscuits, which are indulgent enough to be purchased even by those not trying to avoid gluten.”

And there’s plenty more to choose from besides just cakes and biscuits. With this rising interest in gluten-free, there comes an increased demand for more varied products. Olives Et Al for example, offers a range of NO:DO gluten-free dry mixes including a crumble topping mix, shortcrust pastry mix and sweet pastry mix. Delicious Alchemy has introduced a range of gluten and dairy-free instant breakfast products ranging from Oaty Fruity Muesil to Instant Porridge Oats. 

Free from snacks are proving to be particularly popular, with brands such as Ten Acre bringing out a range of gluten, dairy and MSG-free popcorn in strawberry and cream and cappuccino flavours. Ten Acre’s CEO, Tony Goodman, says: “From our perspective, we have noticed that gluten-free foods are enjoying significant growth. This is mainly because more and more people are opting to follow a gluten-free diet as a lifestyle choice, rather than out of necessity.”

As for dairy-free products, one in five households now buys dairy-free milk or drinks, according to research analysts Mintel. Almond milk is proving to be particularly popular with all the major supermarkets reporting vastly increased sales of the product. Research shows that increasing numbers of consumers are reacting to health warnings about consuming too much dairy, whilst at the same time there is an increase in the number of people who are lactose intolerant. 

Although it may have once been a niche sector, it looks as though the free from trend could well be here to stay. 

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