As the free-from sector continues to thrive and innovate, Jane Wolfe discovers how consumers of this ever expanding category have differing but specific wants and needs, making clarity and consistency key
The UK free-from market was estimated to stand at £837 million in 2018, having grown by an impressive 133% since 2013, according to Mintel, and this rise has been driven by a much broader consumer base than those with allergies or intolerances. In fact, environmental and animal welfare concerns have now become major reasons for purchasing free-from foods. Now, only 20% of consumers avoid specific ingredients due to an allergy or intolerance; 22% do so as part of a healthy lifestyle; and 30% avoid certain foods/ingredients for other reasons (ethical, vegetarian), with this rising to 38% of under-25s.
Simon Wright, founder of OF+ Consulting, identifies six different consumer groups interested in free-from, with each looking for something different. Taking foods marketed as dairy-free as an example, he recognizes:
• Allergics: Zero tolerance of any dairy content. Inadvertent cross-contamination during manufacture is a real problem. A label that says ‘may contain’ means the product
• Intolerants: As above, but less so. Consumption of dairy products results in a wide spectrum of effects. Depending on the degree of sensitivity a ‘may contain’ label might be acceptable. Dairy from non-cow sources may also be acceptable.
• Free-from: If neither allergic nor intolerant, the decision to seek products labelled dairy-free denotes a lifestyle consumer, and these now account for over 50% of all free-from purchasers. This consumer group may move on from buying free-from when the next nutritional trend appears.
• Plant-based: The plant-based consumer group is looking to avoid dairy for environmental and personal health reasons and can be bracketed in with the lifestyle consumer. This is the only group where the intention is positive (inclusion of plant-based products) rather than negative (avoidance of dairy-based ingredients).
• Vegans: Many vegans approach the avoidance of dairy from a political angle and regard eating meat or milk as totally unacceptable because it exploits animals. Trace contamination of a dairy-free product is unacceptable as is a ‘may contain’ label.
• Flexitarians: This group avoids dairy (and/or meat) only some of the time, possibly as a result of being advised to change their diet on health grounds. They are generally not bothered by contamination issues or ‘may contain’ labels.
“So with at least six different sub-groups, all with different needs, all shopping the same supermarket fixture, it is unsurprising that confusion and frustration amongst shoppers is the end result,” says Wright. “What is needed is clarity and consistency around the provision of on-pack information,” he adds, suggesting a uniform approach should be adopted such as a traffic light system – red: dairy present, yellow: may contain dairy, green: no dairy present.
“These consumer groups have differing needs, and it is the shared responsibility of regulators, manufacturers, brand-holders and retailers to clearly signpost which products meet those needs. As these young sectors continue to grow in size and become less niche this will become an increasingly difficult challenge, so let us try and sort it out now.”
A question of health
The demands of free-from consumers are becoming more sophisticated as the sector matures, with nutritional benefits coming higher on the list of requirements. It is no longer enough for products to not contain certain ingredients, they also need to be ‘full of’ health-giving nutrients. Having said this, many consumers are still unsure about the general health benefits of a free-from diet, with 26% saying free-from diets are good for digestive health, but 44% saying that it is hard to know whether they have health benefits for those without an allergy or intolerance. A further 40% worry that following a free-from diet may lead to the cutting out of crucial nutrients, according to Mintel.
“The idea that following a free-from diet could potentially put people at risk of missing out on certain nutrients is a concern for a significant number of consumers,” says Emma Clifford, associate director of food and drink at the research company.
“Gluten-free products carrying nutrient fortification claims are not widespread in the UK market, suggesting a missed opportunity. While highlighting the absence of allergens is vital, spotlighting nutritional credentials is also important for free-from products, particularly to appeal to those opting for these products as part of a healthy lifestyle.”
“It is always important that consumers replace the nutrients from the foods that they are excluding, but this is becoming easier with the use of super grains such as quinoa or teff in breads, and with the fortification of a number of the alternative milks,” says Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the FreeFrom Awards and editor of the FreeFromMatters websites.
Undoubtedly the nutritional value of a number of these products has improved significantly since they started to hit the market. “Early free-from products tended to be higher in fat, sugar and calories than their more mainstream counterparts, and also relied upon a variety of artificial ingredients to replicate the functionality of gluten or milk protein,” explains Wright. “Free-from manufacturers have worked hard to improve their formulations, and current products have improved nutritional profiles and more natural ingredients. Retailers too are looking for cleaner ingredients lists and better nutrition.”
Although there is no doubt the sector is flourishing, part of this growth is artificial, as figures include products that are naturally gluten-free or wheat-free, for example, but specifically labelled as ‘free-from’ to highlight a perceived health benefit to consumers. So, is the term free-from losing value through overuse?
“Awareness that your products may already ‘qualify’ as free-from and that you only have to tighten up on your supply chain and your manufacturing protocols in order to call it ‘free-from’ is certainly attracting a wider range of producers and manufacturers into the sector,” says Berriedale-Johnson. “This does cause some justifiable resentment among manufacturers who have laboured long and hard to create free-from products which are not naturally free-from. But fortunately, since the regulations covering allergens and declarations of free-from-ness are pretty tight, I don’t think it is devaluing the term.
“There are obviously a range of different allergens that allergic people are already avoiding – and not all allergic people are avoiding them all. They look for their particular allergen in the ingredients list or the ‘free-from’ signage, and as long as it is free of that they are not particularly bothered whether it is ‘naturally’ free of that allergen or has been specifically manufactured to be free of it.”
While highlighting the absence of allergens is vital, spotlighting nutritional credentials is also important for free-from products
Affordability is a concern in the sector, however; while 58% of UK shoppers are receptive to the category, 34% claim they would shop free-from more frequently if the products were cheaper, (Kantar). Last year, a £750k fund was set up, launched by Coeliac UK and Innovate UK, to help ‘unlock gluten-free challenges’. Earlier this year they announced the money had been split to support three projects, one of which is the development of three new plant proteins to help improve the ingredients used in gluten-free bread. In the project, Nandi Proteins, Genius Foods, AB Mauri and Agrii will join researchers at Heriot Watt University to develop plant proteins derived from ‘underused UK crops’: rapeseed cake, faba beans and naked oats.
“These new ingredients could replace the expensive egg- and dairy-based ingredients currently used, improve the nutrient profile, taste and texture of gluten-free bread and reduce the need for E number additives,” say Coeliac UK and Innovate UK. “Development of these new ingredients will also open up new markets for UK-grown crops and add value to the UK economy. Overall, consumers could see cheaper and better quality gluten-free products.”
A mainstream future
As to the future development of the sector, it may be that these products become embedded in the mainstream food market as the norm, without a ‘free-from’ emphasis. Wright says: “Forward-thinking manufacturers and retailers are replacing ingredients such as wheat flour, that might be present at a low level in a sauce or ready meal, with an alternative flour such as rice or corn. This allows mainstream food and drink products to be eaten by a wider range of consumers without them necessarily being heavily branded as free-from.”
He also highlights the example of Pizza Express, which moved to using gluten-free flour in its restaurants to dust all the pizza doughs to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination affecting its gluten-free lines.
“As long as it continues to improve in terms of quality and nutritional profile and as long as the price differential can be kept down to between 10-20% absolute max – I cannot see any reason why the sector would not continue to grow – in some cases, where there is little difference in taste, supplanting the original non-free-from version,” concludes Berriedale-Johnson. “Why manufacture two versions if one will actually suit all markets?”
Showing off at NPE
Natural & Organic Products Europe this year saw a huge number of free-from products being showcased from companies around the globe. In fact, as Simon Wright points out: “It would be easier to list the products launched that contained wheat or dairy – they are becoming an endangered species!”
Free-from innovation, particularly within the dairy-free sector, was pronounced in this year’s awards. The overall winner of the Best New Special Diet Product was Qwrkee Pea M’lk from Qwrkee Foods, with runners up including Nush Almond Milk Cheese (Chive), and other dairy-free show stoppers included Milkadamia Macademia Milk and COYO’s Organic Coconut Milk Kefir.
Free-from products appeared in several categories, and included Qwrkee Vegan Jerky (winner Best New Snack Product), Happy White by Happy Cheeze (winner Best New Vegan Food Product), Loma Linda Tuno tuna alternative, Just Wholefoods Sunflower Mince, Funky Chyck’n Bites from Loveseitan, and Mallow Puffs vegan marshmallows.
Vegan frozen brand One Planet Pizza was handing out samples of its new Cheezly pizzas in Three Cheezly Margherita and Hawaiian; Bellygoodness launched a range of low-FODMAP (another rising category in the free-from sector) sauces; Tree of Life showcased its three-strong range of High Protein Pastas made from legumes, including Chick Pea Gnocchetti; and Alara introduced its Golden Crisp Organic Gluten Free Granola.
Orgran exhibited its ‘world first’ range of vegan sugar-free cookies made using buckwheat and chia; and Bob’s Red Mill showed its free-from baking line including its new Super Fine Natural Almond Flour.
In the snacking category, Eat Real highlighted its newest snacks such as Mango & Mint Lentil Chips and Mediterranean Quinoa Corn Puffs; and on the sweeter side, Freedom Mallows introduced Vanilla and Strawberry Mallow Bites – vegan, gelatine-free marshmallows coated with dairy-free chocolate.
For those who suffer from dairy and gluten intolerance but want to ‘enjoy the foods they love again’, EatEnjoy revealed its two innovative supplements. EatEnjoy Gluten and EatEnjoy Dairy are formulated from a combination of digestive enzymes, which work by either breaking down the hard to digest proteins in gluten or sugars in lactose, thus helping alleviate symptoms.
Bellygoodness Nomato Sauce
Bellygoodness vegan sauces are gentle on the tummy. We have eliminated all of those hard to avoid trigger foods. No gluten, no dairy, no added sugar, no yeast, no soya and no tomatoes, onions or garlic. This plant-based, Nomato Sauce is flavoured with natural herbs and tastes like tomatoes without the tomatoes! Not only is this sauce nutritious and healthy, it is easy to use, versatile and delicious
Vegan values from NHP
The range of premium vitamins, minerals and herbs form the Natural Health Practice have all been formulated in association with Dr Marilyn Glenville PHD, the UK’s leading nutritionist specialising in female health. With the emphasis always being on the use of quality, clean and natural ingredients, the NHP range is respected for its formulation values and is totally free from gluten, yeast and dairy products. NHP is thought to be the only supplement brand in the UK that is registered with the Vegetarian* and Vegan* Society, Kosher certified and Halal approved .* Excluding Omega 3 Support Talk to the team today to find out about our latest promotions.
Free From Fellows
Free From FellowsTM is a line-up of the UK’s favourite vegan confectionery products; Our fabulous range of gummies (Gummy bears, Cola Bottles and Midget Gems) and our delicious hard boiled sweets (Pear Drops, Rhubarb & Custard and Lollipops) are made with a delicious twist – they are all made without sugar, gluten, gelatine and dairy! These fabulous products are suitable for everyone, including vegans and vegetarians. Extensive testing with sweetie fans ensured the right variants, flavours, tastes and textures were selected. The products are also egg free, soy free, GMO free, nut free and are free from artificial flavours and colours.
Delicious Panda Raspberry liquorice is made with real raspberry puree providing a natural punch of fruity flavour. Available in a 200g share bag and a 32g bar- perfect for on the go snacking. The all natural Panda traditional recipe dates back over 90 years and to this day remains free from artificial flavours, colourings and preservatives, making this liquorice suitable for kids and adults alike. Suitable for vegetarians and a very popular option for slimmer’s across the UK.
This tasty premium cheese alternative contains nothing more than selected organic cashews, water, salt, vegan fermentation & mold cultures. The Happy White matures over two weeks under special conditions to develop the fine noble mold, and its delicious natural flavor. The brand ‘Happy Cashew’ stands for innovative vegan cheese-, and milk alternatives: 100% vegan, organic, gluten-free, without additives, based on delicious organic Cashews! The company follows the mission to make the world a happier place! – Pure happiness, which you can taste with every bite. Happy Cashew products are available in Planet Organic and Whole Food Stores as well at Marigolds and The Health Store, or online: www.happy-cheeze.com
Organic Traditions Yacon Syrup
Organic Traditions Yacon Syrup is made from the tubers of the Yacon root through a proprietary low temperature mechanical process without solvents or chemicals used to ensure the naturally occurring fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are not degraded. FOS are not metabolised by the body and support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon without a significant impact on blood glucose levels. Yacon Syrup is a light amber coloured syrup with a delicate, sweet floral taste, a healthy substitute for other conventional sweeteners with no additives, colourants, flavours or additional sweeteners added. A low glycemic, prebiotic superfood with an incredible taste.
PUR – Gum & Mints
Freshen your breath naturally with the #1 selling aspartame free gum and mints! Made with your health in mind, we’ve eliminated artificial sweeteners and flavours opting for healthier alternatives instead. PUR Gum and Mints are sweetened with 100% xylitol, a natural sweetener that looks and tastes like sugar, but has 40% less calories. We believe in having a short and naturally sweet list of ingredients that’s simple, clean, and safe to share. In addition to being non -GMO, vegan, and diabetic friendly, PUR Gum and Mints are free from the top 8 allergens. When we say PUR, we mean it.
Garden of Life Raw Organic Fit Protein Powder
Garden Of Life Raw Organic Fit offers 28g of complete plant protein with 13 organic sprouted grains, seeds and legumes plus 3 billion CFU of live bacteria, 13 digestive enzymes, and clinically studied ingredients, including Svetol® Green Coffee Bean Extract, Raw Food Created Chromium and Organic Cinnamon. All Garden Of Life’s plant proteins are produced at low temperatures, preserving their complete amino acid integrity. Certified by Informed Choice, all Garden Of Life proteins are tested and trusted as a clean supplement for competitive sport. USDA/Ecocert Organic, non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-, dairy-, soy- free and vegan.
Nutiva Organic MCT Oil
Nutiva is proud producer of the world’s first organic MCT oil. Nutiva’s organic medium chain triglycerides (MCT) oil is extracted from organic coconuts and has a light coconut aroma. Unlike many non-organic MCT oils that utilise harsh chemical solvents such as hexane, Nutiva use a certified organic process to remove the fats that remain solid at room temperature. Paleo-friendly and naturally gluten-free, with no filler oils. Normal coconut oil is 65% MCTs whilst Nutiva MCT Oil is made up of 93% MCTs. The oil has a light coconut flavour. Non-GMO, BPA-free bottle, no trans-fats or cholesterol.
Orgran Sugar Free Cereals and Cookies
Everywhere we look sugar reduction has become a trend of increasing significance around the globe as the alarming rate of obesity and diabetes climb to all-new highs and with an increased awareness among consumers as to what we are putting into our bodies. The conscious effort to reduce or eliminate the amount of sugar in food and beverage products has been a responsibility for manufacturers. Taking centre stage of this global movement is ORGRAN who plans to provide a wider selection of ‘free from’ and sugar free products over the coming years setting an example for the health food industry and delivering a much needed solution for consumer demand. We are pleased to announce the launch of their new Sugar Free range of cereals and cookies. The range includes Sugar Free Cacao Cookies oven baked and made with the celebrated superfood Buckwheat, and the much-loved ancient grain Chia are sure to make your mouth water. Add into the mix a generous serving of cacao nibs and you’ve got one crowd pleaser!
Sugar Free cereals in two trending flavours Matcha & Coconut and Acai & Coconut are not just a source of protein, but the perfect source of naturally derived ingredients to soothe the biggest of hungers. Healthier living is here to stay, so start each day with a bowl of ORGRAN goodness. You can rest assured that these ORGRAN products also come with the guarantee of being gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, egg free, yeast free, GMO free, nut free and vegan. What are you waiting for, order now!
Nakd Fruit & Nut Bars
As the UK’s No 1 Healthy Snacking Brand – Nākd is the tasty brand your consumers are looking for. Nakd makes nutritious, healthy snacks without compromising on taste – Our latest Salted Caramel flavour – achieved a finalist place in the Best New Special Diet category at Natural & Organic Awards. Why not delight your customers by adding this flavour to your range? Every Nakd bar is minimally processed using 100% natural ingredients, such as fruits and nuts – all ‘smooshed’ together into a handy bar. Plus, of course, they’re all gluten, wheat and dairy-free, with no added sugar – and are vegan-friendly!
Alara Scottish Oats Organic and Gluten Free Porridge
These delicious gluten free and organic oats derive their unique and nutty flavour because they are the only kiln stabilised oats in the world. They are grown in Scotland and processed in a traditional water powered oat mill. Mix 40g of oats with 180ml of milk of choice or water and cook on the hob until desired consistency is reached or in the microwave for 3 minutes. The inner bag in all Alara cereals is made from a cellulose based film that is compostable at home.
HELLO SUMMER, HELLO NEW LOWER PRICE
Booja-Booja creamily delicious dairy free ice creams are now just £5.49 RRP per 500ml tub, reduced from £5.99. The premium, multi award-winning range comprises six luxurious flavours featuring chocolate truffley swoons, fruity ripples and nutty caramel swirls. Made in Norfolk from just a handful of organic, natural ingredients, fabulously ‘free from’, vegan and with no refined sugar, the lower priced tubs of plant-based perfection are sure to be a hit this summer. Available from frozen wholesalers now.
Tree of Life Raw Organic Chocolate
Celebrating the flavour of the high quality cacao beans Tree of Life Chocolate is made from just 3 ingredients: raw cacao powder, cacao butter and coconut sugar. The bars are hand-finished with pieces of real fruits, nuts, seeds and spices for the ultimate chocolate experience. Using only vegan ingredients the chocolate is reassuringly free from dairy as well as gluten and refined sugar. What’s more the vibrant packaging and shelf-ready trays make a bold statement on-shelf and are environmentally responsible, being fully compostable and recyclable. Available now in 8 tempting varieties including Pure 74%, Raspberry, and Chai Spice.
Amisa is founded on the belief that people with special dietary needs must not miss out. They offer ranges specially designed for people who need the absence of gluten, wheat or dairy, and celebrate the presence of delicious, top-quality organic ingredients. To breathe new life into the Free From sphere, Amisa has recently undergone a fresh new rebrand, to show that ‘free from’ doesn’t have to mean boring. Discover the range of gluten free crispbreads, wheat free flours and easy baking mixes.
Koko Dairy Free Super
New Koko Dairy Free Super Milk offers specially boosted nutrition for people of all ages from toddlers to seniors. Enriched with 9 key vitamins and minerals, it provides more nutrients than any non-specialist milk – plant or dairy! It is low in sugar too.
With a creamy, full bodied taste Koko Dairy Free Super is perfect in smoothies and shakes, on cereal or enjoyed straight from the glass. Koko Dairy Free Super Milk is free from all 14 major allergens including dairy, soya, nuts and gluten. It is vegan certified and contains no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives.