Not so long ago, free-from burst onto the scene, with supermarkets quick to jump on the bandwagon. Giving them a good run for their money were forward-thinking independents who made their mark as a hub of innovation. This year’s NOPEX was the perfect lens through which to discover trailblazing new market trends, ideations and NPD for those independents, Denise Barrett discovers

A few years ago, walking into Vegan World as a newcomer one would be blown away by the energy and vibrancy. The category appeared transformed. Of course, free-from has now exponentially blossomed way ahead of the curve (in 2021 Mintel valued the UK free-from market at £1.152 million) and at NOPEX 2023 the buzz was palpable, with ground-breaking international innovations, irresistibly vibrant packaging and unapologetically fun USPs. But uniting all the exhibitors vying energetically for attention was a shared manifesto: a sustainable, anti-waste and kind-to-the-planet philosophy. Here are just some of the brands and trends which pushed the free-from envelope on the show floor.

Putting on a show
Strong brand identity was everywhere at NOPEX. Products didn’t just do you good, they looked good too, all maximized by artful packaging, marketing and stand presentation. An enticement for retailer visitors and, ultimately, for consumers. 

Healthy snacks and treats were on a roll – and first up, everybody’s favourite: chocolate. Choc hero Booja-Booja ticked all the free-from boxes without compromising on its synonymous deliciousness and luxury presentation. Matt Gilding, the company’s MD, believes the brand is the go-to for luxury vegan, dairy-free ice-cream, and was delighted with the reception of current and potentially new retailers attending the stand, along with strong export leads and new indies too.

Booja-Booja, which looked splendid, has been switched up with new flavours Chocolate Fudge and Cookie Dough, plus Mango Raspberry and Deeply Chocolate. The entire range has been beautified with new shapes, bold colours and ornate gold detailing – all this and no price change. 

Staying with chocolate, two more brands were eye-catching for their own individual identity. HU is cleanly presented with delicious light and dark bars plus accompanying recipes, created by co-founders and family members Jordan, Jessica and Jason to ‘specifically meet’ their own exacting standards. 

Novelty company PLAYin CHOC produces organic allergen-free chocolate complete with plastic-free toys. Delicious for all, and for the kids the chocolate treats come in a cute box with collectable 3D puzzle toys and an animal fun facts card. When a new range comes out, PLAYin collaborates with a relevant charity. The trend here is healthy, educational and fun.

Grab and go
Next stop: healthy snacks. Consumers’ busy lifestyles can be geared to grab-and-go, and there was plenty on offer to meet that demand. Airsnax is a young, directional brand, all vibrantly packaged and attracting the attention of many a buyer at NOPEX. Through its ‘more filling’ puffed chickpea snack, it’s on a mission to ‘fight hungry with healthy.’ 

JaffJacks offer gluten- and dairy-free, jackfruit-based, ready-to-eat dishes in eye-catching packages – a healthy and tasty alternative for vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians.

The Bardo brand is unique. Its vegan, bite-size snacks are made with specially selected botanicals in combination with dried fruit and nuts such as almonds. The packs are a work of art. Bardo was proudly founded by Lili Sulejmanovic, a British Bosnian who moved to the UK as a refugee from the war in 1992. 

The ultimate grab-and-go is SuperPlant, a brand-new launch created by food entrepreneur Alec Cousins, who’s on a mission to shake up the market. A popular favourite is the single-serve, freeze-dried Snack Pots – gluten-free, made with organic ingredients and fortified with micronutrients. Ready in four minutes; just add hot water. A 100% healthy, deluxe version of the Pot Noodle, you might say. 

Looking for lunch? 
The following two are prime examples of ‘meat alternatives’ which typify the trend and can help meat-eaters ‘pare down’ their intake (not surprisingly, both stands had a healthy interest from independents): Vegini offers 100% plant-based SKUs, created with pea, rice or chickpea, free from soy, gluten and lactose; and Sunflower Family’s soya and gluten-free meat alternatives readily appeal to flexitarians. They mimic meat in texture and protein ratio, without added fat. Moist and piquant, they’re based on sunflower seeds, not soya.

If your customers like making a sandwich, direct them to Seedfull’s range of artisan-style flour-free loaves and rolls which are high in fibre and packed with seeds and wholegrains. The man at the helm is Polish ex-footballer, entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den winner, Robert Sak. 

Now for seasoning. Visitors competitively fought for space at the stand of Sarota – the quintessential Himalayan Pink Rock Salt, carefully extracted by hand from the foothills of Khewra, Pakistan. The brand story and the illustrations are beautiful and the pretty pink granules certainly do pack a punch; ‘A little pinch goes a long way’ is the brand’s motto.

More tasty seasoning came from Notorious Nooch, a funky product with dynamic colours and on-pack graphics. The brand’s nutritional yeast is plant-based, high in protein, B vitamins and minerals, and dairy-, gluten- and soya-free. The Nooch team recommends it sprinkled on mac ’n’ cheese or even beans on toast. 

Using their loaf
Away from trade shows, Food Manufacture magazine reports that scientists from the American Chemical Society have developed a new method for making gluten-free flour using sweet potatoes. The team prepared samples of orange sweet potatoes, dried at either 55°C or 80°C, then ground them once or twice before comparing to store-bought sweet potato flour and a traditional wheat one.

When baked into a loaf of bread, the single-ground, high-temperature-dried sample featured higher antioxidant capacity than both the store-bought version and the wheat flour. The researchers said the findings could help expand the applications for orange sweet potato flour, both for home cooks and the packaged foods industry.

Footy goes free-from 
In an inspired global partnership, ZENB (pronounced ZEN-bee), the food brand known for its whole-plant approach, has entered a multi-year sponsorship of professional football club FC Barcelona. The brand will become the first official gluten-free food partner of the club in the US, reflecting a market trend for individuals to be inspired by professional sports teams and athletes who prioritize high performance lifestyles fuelled by clean eating and the benefits of plant-forward diets. In a no-waste approach, using parts of legumes and vegetables that are typically discarded, ZENB produces nutrient-dense, gluten-free products including its single-ingredient pasta made from 100% yellow peas which has a lower carbon footprint and uses less water and fertilizer to grow than the durum wheat used to make traditional pasta.

Free-from disruptors
Placing the spotlight on six brands presenting trailblazing free-from innovation:

Crave was created in 2020 by food consultant and former chef Rob Brice with the aim of producing a range of new flavour-filled, free-from and vegan food products that stand up to their mainstream equivalents. Starting with two successful chocolate bars, Brice went on to launch the quirkily named snacks Pickled Onion Monster Feet and Smokey Flavoured Streakers. “My inspiration for Crave,” comments Brice, “was seeing that so many free-from foods were either bland and boring or firmly focused on health. I wanted to shake things up, bring bold flavour and a bit of fun.” 

The brand Julienne Bruno was founded in 2020 by foodie innovator Axel Katalan to offer a different perspective on plant-based, vegan food. The brand’s Collection 01 is a dairy-free cheese experience ‘inspired by classics’, starring the delicate Burrella, the light and fluffy Crematta and the versatile and creamy Superstraccia. Made in fresh batches each week in-house, the cheeses – which have been developed by a team of international chefs – are made using organic soya and coconut oil and are naturally fermented through a bespoke system. The sourcing, processing, packing and shipping of all of the products takes place under one roof, aptly named Kitchen 01. 

Moo Free is a Devon-based family-run business headed by husband-and-wife team Mike and Andrea Jessop, who have been ‘leading the charge on dairy-dodging chocolate’ for over a decade. In the last year, it has become B Corp-certified and achieved a BRC AA accreditation. With strong ethics at its core, Moo Free is dedicated to using ethically sourced ingredients, with all of its cocoa coming from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms to help support sustainable farming. Moo Free newcomers include the Moofreesas Ball with Moofreesas snack pack and Caramel Mini Eggs. The line-up also features flavour makeovers to the characters White Mikey Bunny and Hammy the Chocolate Orange Hamster. 

The Protein Ball Co is featuring a new range of low-carb and low-sugar keto snacks. Spotting a gap in the market, it has launched Keto Balls in a conveniently sized grab-and-go bag. The range has been ‘rolled’ to perfection with a sweet nut butter base and provides an excellent source of slow-release energy. It’s high in fibre, a great source of protein, gluten-free and contains less than 1g of carbs per ball. Keto balls launched with three flavours: Peanut Butter Blondie, which combines creamy peanut butter and crunchy peanut pieces; Salted Caramel Blondie, blending rich nut butters with sea salt and juicy dates, topped with a sweet almond crumb; and Classic Chocolate Brownie, which blends rich, creamy cacao butter and crunchy roasted hazelnuts to create a brownie-inspired ball. 

Amisa has added two new pantry-staple variants to its upscale free-from bread range. Sundried Tomato Ciabatta is organic, aromatic, Italian-style sundried tomato ciabatta, while Seeded Breakfast Rolls are naturally rich in fibre, with sunflower seeds, linseeds and sesame seeds giving added texture and nutrition. Both products are certified gluten-free and designed to address the growing demand for naturally gluten-free, vegan alternatives to traditional baked goods.

Piccadilly pop-up
London bakery brand Doughlicious has partnered with Whole Foods Market to host the store’s first ever pop-up in the UK, setting up shop on the second floor of the Piccadilly branch.

The Doughlicious pop-up debuted four Super Stuffed cookie flavours, O.G Salted Chocolate Chip, Jaffa Wannabe, YO-Berry and Inside Out Churro.

Alongside were its ‘naturally naughty’ sweet treats, including brand-new Super Stuffed warm cookies with a delicious crispy outside and gooey middle, and Dough•Chi frozen desserts – cookie dough-wrapped ice cream bites. Visitors could enjoy goodies on-site or take away a gift box of treats. 

Kathryn Bricken, Doughlicious founder, says the shop was initially intended to run until 4 May, but due to high demand could extend into the summer.


SOON organic plant-based yoghurt alternatives and desserts

Tel: +33 299041135
E-mail:  [email protected]

Award-winner in the Best Vegan yoghurt category of the Vegan Food & Living Award, discover our delicious spelt-based natural yoghurt alternative! SOON is a young committed organic plant-based brand designed to promote the diversity and richness of plants through natural, simple, healthy and tasty recipes. The chilled range offers tasty spelt-, coconut- and oat-based yoghurt alternatives as well as delicious hemp-based desserts. An ambient range with drinks and custard is also available. Discover Soon, the sister brand of Sojade!


New Dairy Free Ice Cream Range

Tel: 01508 558888
E-mail:  [email protected]

New recipes, creamier textures and brighter, fuller flavours make this the most delicious Booja-Booja ice cream range ever. Cookie Dough, with its chunks of delicious gluten-free, chocolate chip cookie dough swirled through vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce, has already won Best Vegan Ice Cream in the Vegan Food & Living Product Awards 2023. When it comes to free-from this range ticks so many boxes; it’s dairy free, gluten free, soya free, vegan and organic. Four brand new flavours; Mango & Raspberry, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Deeply Chocolate and award-winning Cookie Dough feature alongside three transformed Booja-Booja favourites. Only £5.49 RRP.


Chosan Baobab Superfood Jams and Spreads

Tel: 01206 460094
E-mail:  [email protected]

Championing exotic superfoods, Chosan’s Baobab Superfood Jams and Spreads
Available in four flavours – Fruity Banana, Zesty Orange, Rich Chocolate and Spicy Sweet Ginger, they all deliver functional nutritional benefits from Baobab, our superfood ingredient.  Baobab is immunity boosting due to its high level of vitamin C, supports digestion from its high fibre content and contains a range of minerals and vitamins that support overall body metabolism. We use ethically sourced naturally organic baobab.
Made in UK by an artisan manufacturer.   With just four ingredients these reduced sugar jams and spread contain 30% less sugar than many other market alternatives


Seeded Gluten Free Sliced Bread 275g

Dillon Organic Ltd
Tel: 07932 648095
E-mail:  [email protected]

Makers of the delicious Keto breads, Dillon Organic have just launched this new tasty Gluten free sliced bread in 2 flavours (Seeded and Olive) packed full of organic seeds including Sunflower, Flax, and pumpkin. No preservatives, additives, gums, fillers or other nasties. Gluten and dairy free, vegan, low carb and high fibre. The Dillon Organic founder designed this product to be filling and suitable for diabetics. It is made using a gentle sourdough, without the use of yeast or other baking agents. 

Seeded and Olive flavours both available through CLF, Suma, Essential, Queenswood, and Independent Irish wholesalers.


Hazelust – Keto Hazelnut Cocoa Spread

Bunch London Ltd
E-mail: [email protected]

Hazelust is an award winning ketogenic hazelnut spread. It contains only 5.3 net carbs per 100g, perfect for all those who have a sweet tooth but want to stay committed to a healthy lifestyle. Made with high-quality, roasted hazelnuts, blended with organic coconut oil and cocoa, this spread is an excellent source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fibre. Sweetened
only with natural sweeteners, Hazelust offers a rich, chocolatey flavour without added sugars or artificial preservatives. It’s a perfect treat for people following low-carb, ketogenic diets who crave something sweet and guilt-free. Our instagram offer some tasty ideas: @bunch.lowcarb


Yummtella – Sublime Chocolate Hazelnut Spread For The Healthier Living Fraternity

Doesn’t any well-intentioned gluten-free breakfast spread or home baked batch of tasty, healthier living cakes deserve access to the last word in unashamedly decadent chocolate hazelnut spread?
Yummtella is a gloriously substantial sugar-free spread that advocates a low carb keto and healthy agenda by steadfastly refusing to liaise with palm or vegetable oils, cheap bulkers or any lazy sweeteners & preservatives.
FFFA award winning Yummtella offers enticing ‘foodie’ swagger to anyone who loves chocolate but loathes unnecessary sugariness, the spreadable vision of Yummzy’s founder and type 1 diabetic Jolie who craved a raw choc spread free-from unwelcome seed oils and sugar-by-the-backdoor maltitol yet nutritious and adding minerals to a mineral depleted modern day eating.


Ylang Ylang Soap – 95g

Friendly Soap
Tel: 01422 400282
E-mail:  [email protected]

This invigorating soap bar uses soothing Ylang Ylang essential oils to give it its wonderful scent. The tropical yellow flower is native to countries surrounding the Indian Ocean and is favoured for its rich and fruity top notes, making it a popular ingredient in high-end perfumes. Now, you can enjoy this refreshing scent within a stimulating, all-natural soap. Cruelty-free, plant-based and handmade without the use of preservatives, sulfates or plastic. Friendly Soap is registered with Cruelty Free International, The Vegan Society and The Living Wage Foundation.