Free-from food market there to be tapped, says analyst

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food allergy

The UK free-from food market, including dairy-, gluten- and
wheat-free products, is set to double on the back of growing
consumer concern over health and well-being.

Market analyst Mintel says that the sector, which is being driven by increased public awareness of food allergies and intolerance, has already enjoyed sales growth of over 300 per cent since 2000.

In a new report entitled Food Intolerance and Allergies​, Mintel also identified the rising popularity of certain free-from diets.

"With Britain's insatiable appetite for new healthy diet plans, free-from diets are fast becoming a trendy lifestyle choice, irrespective of whether or not you actually suffer from an allergy or food intolerance,"​ said Mintel consumer analyst Julie Sloan.

"Today, celebrities including Carol Vorderman, Geri Halliwell and Victoria Beckham have been said to adopt regimes such as wheat-free and dairy-free diets. Although these celebrity followers may not buy free-from food ranges they will have undoubtedly raised the profile of a free-from approach to eating.'

The growth in the free-from food market therefore presents both an opportunity and a threat to the food industry. Pressure group Allergy UK claims that while two per cent of the population suffers from a food allergy, which can in some instances be life threatening, a much higher percentage suffer from food intolerance.

Allergen labelling regulations that came into force last year require companies to label all pre-packed foods if they contain any of 12 listed allergenic foods as an ingredient, with consumers more conscious than ever of the dangers of allergies.

But on the other hand, the growing demand has opened up a new lucrative sector that many food makers are keen to exploit.

The free-from market was worth 90 million in 2005, and Mintel said that the gluten and wheat-free sector has benefited in particular from the nation's increasing interest in healthy eating. Sales of products such as wheat-free breads and cakes have grown by almost 120 per cent over the last three years alone, to reach 48 million.

Meanwhile, dairy-free products are valued at 32 million, with sales of products such as soy milk and yoghurts growing by 28 per cent over the same three year period.

"The popularity of soy milk under high-profile brands has certainly played its part in catapulting the free-from food sector into the mainstream away from the specialist dietary food field,"​ said Sloan.

"The explosion of new product launches in the free-from market as a whole as well as greater dedicated shelf space have also had a significant role in the market's growth. High-profile cases of life-threatening allergies to products such as nuts have undoubtedly brought the problem of allergies and food intolerance into the limelight as well."

Sloan says that one of the interesting characteristics of the market is the high level of misdiagnosis, which stems from the public's willingness to self-diagnose at best or simply avoid a particular product based on little more than one bad experience, a news article or peer and family advice.

"Many people may conclude that they are intolerant to a particular food, such as shellfish, when in fact they may have suffered from nothing more than slight food poisoning. As such there is no doubt that a proportion of shoppers will buy free-from foods based on a misconception."

In conclusion, Mintel believes that the market for free-from foods is likely to continue to expand, both in value and in the choice of products on offer. The market analyst forecasts that the free-from food market is set to more then double over the period 2005-10, to reach a value of 195 million.

The market could be further boosted through the encouragement of those allergy sufferers who simply avoid certain products all together to buy free-from food ranges instead.

The report is currently available from Mintel priced 995.

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