This year’s Natural & Organic Products Europe was the perfect place to get a comprehensive insight into how the free-from sector is performing – evolving, innovating and rethinking its health credentials. Jane Wolfe reports

The free-from sector continues its upward trajectory, with the UK market estimated at £718 million in 2017, more than doubling since 2012, according to Mintel, which predicts that value sales will grow a further 25.2% to reach £899 million by 2022.

And if you were at Natural & Organic Products Europe (NPE) at London’s ExCeL in April you will no doubt have sampled some of the many innovative new products being revealed for the first time on the show floor and sat in on a few of the keynote sessions focusing on the free-from sector – a mainstay of natural health stores.

In his session on the UK market for sustainable food and drink, OF+ Consulting’s Simon Wright described this rise in free-from sales as ‘staggering’ and an indication of the dynamism of the sector. “We reckon that over three-quarters of the UK population is now buying at least one free-from product,” he said. “And whilst the market started out for people with an allergy or intolerance, now more than half of the people who buy free-from products are doing so for reasons of lifestyle, because they believe the products are better for them.”

Not only is the free-from category growing in sales, but the types of products it encompasses are also on the rise, he said. “The most popular types of free-from products are wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free – particularly cow dairy-free – nut-free and egg-free. What we are seeing, however – with the attention given to sugar in the UK over the last 18 months – is a lot of sugar-free products now lobbying to be included in the free-from fixture, and I dare say we will also see vegan and plant-based products also lobbying to be included.”

And in addition to sugar, expect to see other ‘free-from’ claims creeping under the umbrella of the category, such as GM-free and palm-oil free, which, according to a recent study are increasingly on consumers’ radar.

“Offering more plant-based options makes a lot of commercial sense … from an allergy point of view vegan is automatically dairy-free and egg-free – two of the major allergens”

Nutritionist and author Christine Bailey – who was also a judge in this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards – flagged up veganism as a great fit for the free-from category in her seminar on the vegan and free-from sectors. “If you are a retailer, offering more plant-based options makes a lot of commercial sense, not just because we have a growing vegan and flexitarian market, but from an allergy point of view vegan is automatically dairy-free and egg-free – two of the major allergens.”

She highlighted vegan protein trends driving the sector, including fermented soya products, bean- and pulse-based snacks and pasta, vegan nut cheeses as well as protein powders and bars made with rice, hemp, pea and nut proteins.

Free-from nutrition?
There is concern that the free-from explosion has come at a price, with Mintel highlighting the fact that the health credentials of exclusion diets have been called into question by a number of health organizations who have said that people risk missing out on vital nutrients by cutting ingredients out of their diet.

And this is something Bailey also alluded to in her session. “For those who do have allergies, there are a lot of nutritional concerns. Often they will be lacking quite a few key vitamins and minerals, especially at time of diagnosis if they are a celiac or have inflammatory bowel. So from a product point of view we want to be seeing products that are higher in key vitamins and minerals.”

Bailey added that in the 20 years she has been in the industry there has been a massive change in the sector. “We’ve transformed the free-from market. Originally products were seen as quite high in saturated fats, sugar and salt, and very low in fibre, and there was a lot of concern about the quality of the food, particularly gluten-free, with the flours not being fortified and so on.” She added that fortified options are now emerging in the category, with functional benefits including probiotics, superfoods and boosted protein and fibre content.

We’ve transformed the free-from market. Originally products were seen as quite high in saturated fats, sugar and salt and very low in fibre, and there was a lot of concern about the quality of the food, particularly gluten-free

No excuses
Mintel found that health has a major influence on the free-from category, with 48% of those who consume free-from food or drink doing so for health reasons or because they perceive them as healthier than standard products. It adds that: “While health is a crucial motivator for uptake of free-from products, their free-from status is not seen to ‘excuse’ them from being unhealthy in other respects. Indeed, products seen to fail on health or naturalness grounds are a considerable put-off.” This has led to customers demanding free-from foods that are also free from highly processed and artificial ingredients, it claims.

Bailey noted that there is growing importance around intuitive eating, what’s in our food versus what is not. “There is more of an emphasis now on what is actually in our food as compared to what we’re taking out. For a long time a lot of free-fromers were making sure products were gluten-free; now they are more concerned about what’s in a product and its nutritional quality. Consumers are becoming a lot more savvy and are increasingly sceptical about health claims. They want labelling to be very transparent; the shorter the label, the more honest it looks, the better.”

Flour power
Gluten-free is probably one of the most familiar free-from categories to consumers, and in this area Bailey noted that ancient grains are ‘massively back in’. “Things like sorghum and teff, but also new flours like tiger nut flour are becoming very popular. Baking programmes have increased awareness of more artisan products and home baking, and where we can support consumers is by offering them recipe support and demos so they know how to use these flours which are becoming much more widely available and have a lot more to offer in terms of nutrition.”

The Heart of Nature showcased its pure grain bread in Original, Quinoa Seeds, Chia Seeds, Cranberries, Prunes and Green Olives variants at NPE. Baked using no flour or yeast, the breads are free from the main 14 allergens and enhanced with seeds and grains.

Bio Mare sampled its gluten-free sweet and salty cookies and crackers; TrooFoods introduced its Troo Granola gut-healthy granola in Chocolate with Orange, Nicely Nutty and Super Seedy varieties; and Organic Bakery Zemanka offered an array of biscuits baked with red lentil flour.

Free From Italy was there too, with its gluten-free and egg-free La Buona Vita Lasagne, Fusilli, Penne and Spaghetti, made to a corn and rice recipe, and a line of new Organic Vegan Croissants in Chocolate, Spelt, Wholemeal and Savoury variants.

No moo milk
According to Mintel, from 2012-2017 growth in the free-from category was strongest in the dairy-free sector – up an impressive 61%, and this market was well represented at NPE. As always, dairy-free milks were huge, with one emerging trend being the use of tiger nuts, as demonstrated by Viegan, which introduced its new Tigernut Drink. Rich in vitamin E, naturally sweet and nutritionally dense, tiger nuts are in fact fibre-rich tubers which act as a prebiotic.

And claiming to be a ‘revolution in non-dairy milk’, the Nutramilk processor was introduced at the show, to give consumers and retailers the capacity to make their own nut milks and butters. The counter-top machine produces up to two litres of nut milk in 12 minutes.

Cheese alternatives were also big at the show, with the offer more sophisticated than ever. Happy Cheeze exhibited its cashew-based soft and hard handmade cheeses, including an alternative Camembert, as well as its New York Style Cheeze Cakes. Follow Your Heart showcased its Medium Cheddar Style Slices and a Garlic Aioli Veganaise; and nature & moi introduced its Italian-style plant-based cheeses, including a Gran Vegiano ‘Parmesan’.

In the yoghurt category, Cocofina’s organic Coconut Yoghurt Alternative – which comes in a make-it-yourself powder sachet and aims to do away with out-of-date yoghurt – was debuted at the show, while Sojades launched its new So Soya! Raspberry & Matcha Green Tea soya yoghurt.

And for more sweet treats, Northern Bloc’s all-natural vegan Ice Cream cooled visitors with flavours such as Chocolate & Orange Blossom, Strawberry & Yuzu, Hazelnut & Rose and Peanut Chip; and the new Ombar Centres Pistachio chocolate bar was a big hit, picking up Best New Organic Food Product.

Visitors looking for a microbiome-enhancing ferment, could sample Mount Olympus’ low-lactose Goat’s Kefir, suitable for those with dairy intolerance, and its Vegan Water Kefirs in Ginger and Mojito varieties. Other new drinks on show included Sweet Revolution’s Organic Instant Chicory Latte with Lion’s Mane, and Health Link’s vegan lattes in Acai Banana, Matcha and Mango.

A matter of convenience
With Mintel revealing that 47% of free-from food/drink consumers are attracted to short-cut free-from products, the new convenience meal offers at the show included Upton’s Naturals pre-seasoned wholefood jackfruit meat alternatives in Sweet and Smoky and Chilli Lime, and Lazy Vegan’s Mexican and Provençal frozen ready-meals, combining fresh vegetables with Pulled Peaz protein chunks made from green peas.

On the baking side, Creative Nature launched its organic, refined sugar-free Whole Grain Banana Bread Mix and Chocolate Chip Muffin Mix, both of which are free from the top 14 allergens; while the Superfood Bakery introduced its gluten-free and vegan Joy Makers Brownies with cocoa and maca powder.



Free From Product Listings


Organic Gluten Free Scottish Oats Porridge

Alara Wholefoods Ltd,
Tel: 020 7387 9303
E-mail:  [email protected]

Alara have just launched their exciting rebrand at the NOPE trade show. Alongside a fresh new look, Alara are 100% organic, sourcing only sustainable, natural and healthy ingredients for their products. Sustainability is at the heart of the brand, who are pioneering a new compostable inner clear film bag, which will be included in all of their cereals going forward.

Alara were the first cereal manufacturer to be certified gluten-free by the coeliac society, and they have stuck to their roots with the majority of products in their range being gluten-free. The Scottish Oats porridge can be enjoyed by coeliac sufferers and gluten-intolerant individuals, as well as those looking for a delicious, healthy and sustainable breakfast option.


Panda Liquorice

Bravura Foods
Tel: 020 3086 8676
E-mail:  [email protected] 

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.


Free From Fellows

Bravura Foods
Tel: 020 3086 8676
E-mail:  [email protected] 

Free From FellowsTM launched their range of gums and jellies (Gummy Bears, Cola Bottles Midget Gems) last year and now the range has been extended to include three new delicious lines –  Pear Drops, Rhubarb & Custard and Cola/ Strawberry lollipops. Everything is sugar free and certified by the Sugarwise organisation. Not only this but all the products are gluten free and gelatine free and certified by both the vegan and vegetarian societies making this pretty much a “suitable for all range”. Fondly known as the nation’s favourite sweets without the sugar.


Essential Organic Red Pesto

Essential Trading
Tel:  0845 458 0201
E-mail:  [email protected]

Essential Trading’s red organic pesto is made from four fresh ingredients, sourced from an organic co-operative in Italy – organic tomato concentrate, organic basil, organic extra virgin olive oil and organic pinenuts. This makes it 100% organic, 100% vegan and true to the Italian tradition of keeping things simple and allowing the quality of the individual ingredients to shine. It’s double concentrated which makes it less oily than other pesto sauces – customers can add some extra virgin olive oil to make it spread further and to get more value for their money. One 175g jar of pesto is enough for 1.5kg of pasta.


Sojade Organic Raspberry & Matcha Tea soya yogurt alternative

E-mail:  [email protected]

Discover this delicious and innovative plant-based yogurt alternative which combines the delicate flavour of Raspberries and the subtle aroma of matcha green tea powder. Its level of sugar is only 8,8g for 100g to satisfy consumers who wish to reduce their sugar intake. Sojade makes healthy and tasty products with top-quality ingredients: GMO-Free French soya beans, homemade fruit puree, fairtrade raw cane sugar. Sojade soya yogurts are a good source of quality proteins, they are low in fat, easy to digest and contain live ferments of which Bifidus and Acidophilus.  Try the difference, try Sojade!


Vegan values from NHP

Natural Health Practice
Tel: 0845 880 0915
E-mail: [email protected]

The Vegan* 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. Additionally registered with the Vegetarian* society and Kosher approved, the range is also Halal compliant (according to manufacturer’s GMP).

* Excluding Omega 3 Support Talk to our team today to find out about our latest promotions.


Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia & Flax Powder

Kinetic Natural Products Distributor
Tel: 08450 725 825
E-mail: [email protected]

Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia & Flax Powder is a certified organic, cold-milled powder, which contains crushed sprouted flax and chia seeds. These nutrient dense seeds have been a nutritional staple for many years by cultures around the world, and include high traces of iron, fibre and calcium. Organic, gluten-free, antioxidant-rich, free from additives, preservatives & sweeteners. Ideal for use in sweet & savoury dishes, as well as smoothies. An extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. You may even wish to try adding small amounts to your favourite smoothies or coconut water’s for an added antioxidant kick.


New Natural Favoured Protein Powders by Pulsin

Tel: 01452 72900
E-mail:  [email protected]

Increasing your protein intake just got a lot easier and tastier thanks to Pulsin, the award-winning protein masters, who have recently launched two natural flavoured protein powders.  Available in Vanilla Whey and Chocolate Pea variants, The flavoured protein powder range contains one vegan friendly and one natural whey protein, both are free from gluten and contains no added fillers or sugar. Available in 250g pouches and handy single serve 25g sachets – perfect for an on-the-go protein boost – simply mix the powder with your milk of choice or water, shake and enjoy. The flavoured protein range is the latest addition to Pulsin’s award-winning product ranges: unflavoured protein powders; protein booster bars; raw choc brownies; porridge oat bars and kids’ fruity oat bars. All products are available from leading health wholesalers.


Remedy Kombucha Raspberry Lemonade

Remedy Drinks UK Ltd
Tel: 01753 874505
E-mail:  [email protected]

Remedy Kombucha is pure, authentic kombucha. A tasty organic sparkling live cultured drink made with raspberry and lemon; an all time favourite. Our long brewing methods ensure our kombucha naturally contains no sugar and is packed full of friendly bacteria and healthy organic acids that love ya guts!


Minestrone with Gluten-Free Pasta

Tideford Organics
Tel: 01803 840 555
E-mail:  [email protected]

Tideford are committed to making delicious food that’s good for you, and the planet, which is why in September 2016 they became the UK’s first organic, vegan and gluten-free brand. This May, celebrate Coeliac Awareness Week with their Minestrone with Gluten-Free Pasta. A classic minestrone soup, it’s bursting with tomatoes, carrots, courgettes, haricot beans and leeks, and seasoned with a lovely mix of Mediterranean spices. Like the rest of the Tideford range it’s also low salt with no added sugar, and the addition of gluten-free pasta makes it a meal that everyone can enjoy.


Other Foods

Wainut Creative Ltd.
Tel: 07540183746
E-mail:  [email protected]

Other Foods range is the best flavoured veggie savoury snack you can get. We are devoted to pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo by creating Asian Western fusion for your everyday snack indulgences. We are specialised in roasted broad beans, chickpeas, and edamame with most interesting Asian flavours, such as Korean Kimchi, Japanese Seaweed, as well as classic ones like Smokey BBQ. We are pleased to announce our new plant-based grain bars with the most innovative ingredients combo is under pre-order now, all the formulations are inspired by the renowned Michelin starred restaurants. Stay tuned here:


Amisa Organic Gluten Free Crispbread Range

Tel: 0208 547 2775
E-mail:  [email protected]

Amisa deliciously light organic crispbreads are both vegan and low in fat. Serve with your favourite sweet or savoury topping and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or as a healthy snack. All our Amisa products are routinely batch tested to ensure gluten levels below 20ppm. Why not try the newest member to the range: Amisa Chestnut Crispbread – rich, nutty and slightly sweet in flavour, it is a great source of fibre aswell as being the perfect on the go snack.


Happy Cheeze – vegan cashew based cheese alternatives and cheese cakes

Happy Cheeze GmbH
Tel: 0049 1515 854 6087
E-mail:  [email protected]

Happy Cheeze is the leading company in Europe, producing artisan raw vegan cheese. All products are handmade ‘with love’, in the little German city Cuxhaven. There are 11 varieties of cream and matured cheeses, flavored with different combinations of herbs and spices. Outstanding is Happy White, inspired by French Camembert. The entire Happy Cheeze range contains no chemicals, preservatives or artificial colorings & flavorings. There is also a tasting selection of raw vegan New York Style Cheeze Cakes; blue cheese, classic and chocolate You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy our products.


FREEE Gluten Free Baking Mixes

FREEE by Doves Farm
Tel: 01488 684 880
E-mail:  [email protected]

The UK’s no.1 gluten free flour brand FREEE by Doves Farm offers four mixes in its award-winning gluten free range: White Bread, Seeded Bread, Sponge and Pizza Base. All are free from gluten, milk and peanut and suitable for kosher and vegetarian diets. The Seeded Bread, White Bread, and Pizza Base are also vegan-friendly. Requiring only two store-cupboard ingredients, the range is made from naturally gluten free ingredients such as rice, quinoa, chickpea and buckwheat, and without artificial flavourings, colourings, GM or hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, making them a store cupboard essential for the time poor but health conscious free-from shopper.