The food intolerance and allergies market has grown 165 per cent since 2000, according to new research by market analysts Mintel, and is set to more than double in value by 2007 reaching £138 million (€202m).
Valued at £55.6 million in 2002, there have been a number of key factors driving this sector, according to Mintel, including the growing number of consumers who perceive that they have a food allergy/intolerance. Dubbed a 'designer disorder', there has also been a recent trend towards the fashionable nature of suffering from food intolerance and avoiding specific food and ingredients, according to the new report 'Food Intolerance and Allergies'.
Growing awareness of food intolerance and allergies among the medical profession has also boosted the market, resulting in an increase in the number of consumers being given medical advice to follow elimination diets to test for food intolerance.
These factors combine with the competitive nature of the retail market which is leading to wider product offerings and own-label ranges, to make the sector a booming category for new product entries.
Mintel research on 1,000 housewives found that high blood pressure (33 per cent) and high blood cholesterol (25 per cent) are still the biggest health concerns. But those associated with food intolerance/allergy include irritable bowel syndrome (12 per cent) and 14 per cent of those questioned are concerned about migraine.
The report also notes that concerns over wheat (4 per cent) lactose and gluten (2 per cent) and nut and other food allergy/intolerance (3 per cent) were relatively low down on consumers' lists of health concerns.
"This is perhaps a reflection of the fact that food intolerance/allergy affects only a small proportion of consumers, and also suggests that awareness may be very low or even non-existent among respondents who have a food intolerance/allergy but who are not aware of it," commented Mintel.
Around one in ten housewives avoid eating wheat/lactose and gluten, compared to nearly two thirds who avoid high-fat foods, around one in three who avoid sugar and saturated fat, one in four who avoid salt and one in five who avoid artificial sweeteners, GM foods/ingredients, E numbers, chillies/spicy foods and shellfish.
"As well as avoiding food for food intolerance and allergies, these foods will also be avoided for other reasons as well, e.g. cheese and nuts are high in fat, consequently, these responses overplay concerns about allergies. This indicates that food intolerance and food allergies are a less common reason than healthy eating for avoiding particular foods and ingredients, but nevertheless point to a substantial market demand for specialist foods," said James McCoy, senior consumer analyst.
Although the market is expected to remain a niche market, it is likely to be subject to further innovation and promotion, according to the company.
Supermarkets will play the biggest role in the short term, with many already offering a branded range or likely to introduce their own-brand ranges of these products. But price is a key issue and the introduction of more own-label ranges will ensure the supermarkets a greater opportunity to compete on price, suggests the report.
It adds that although food intolerance and allergies will be the main drivers of growth in this market, increasingly some consumers will see the appeal of 'free from' foods, whether or not they medically need them.
"The onus will be on manufacturers to further boost awareness among consumers who are looking to maintain a healthy diet, but not necessarily requiring 'free-from' foods, if the market is to realise its potential, as lack of awareness can be a barrier to further growth," said McCoy.
And consumers on special diets will be looking for convenience in foods they can eat, offering plenty of scope for new product development.
Mintel advises companies to address potential dietary insufficiencies that may arise from following restricted diets. This might be achieved for example by fortifying foods to ensure such consumers are eating a balanced diet, says the research company. And products offering more than one main advantage will also be a key development area, to ensure that products appeal to a wider consumer audience.