Health is the driver

Mark Thomson, business unit director, Kantar Worldpanel.

Consumers opt for free-from products even when they don’t have allergies

DESPITE the nation’s reputation for having an unhealthy diet, Scots are now spending £29.6m a year on “free-from” products. Gluten-free, dairy-free and other specific ingredient-free foods are being bought by customers with specific food allergies and intolerances but also by others who are following detailed diets or trying to eat healthily.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, the take home free-from category is now worth £327.7m in the UK, growing at 18.6% over the last year. Scotland is growing just ahead of total GB, up 19.5%. More than half of all Scottish shoppers will buy at least one free-from item a year.
Kantar found that, while Scots consumers are usually keener on branded products than shoppers in Great Britain overall, with free-from goods the situation is reversed and the percentage of free-from purchases taken by private-label is, at 26.4%, actually a little higher than in GB overall.
Biscuits, rye bread, rolls and baps are the most popular lines. Bread still accounts for the biggest purchase value within free-from, with customers who buy gluten-free bread spending £20.28 in the sub-category, more than on any other product in the category as a whole.
Whatever the reason for buying gluten- or dairy-free foods, it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Kantar reckons the market could grow to £519m by 2016.
Just 1% of the UK population is estimated to suffer from coeliac disease, a debilitating gluten intolerance. However according to the charity Coeliac UK, another 10% of the population actively avoids or limits consumption of gluten for health and lifestyle reasons. Those might be to improve digestion, aid weight loss or enhance skin condition. The fact that many gluten-free products are also free from artificial additives and preservatives promotes the perception of them as healthier options.
Clive Moxham, director of sales and marketing at speciality food supplier, Leathams, suggests there are several ways for c-store owners to take advantage of gluten-free goods’ popularity.
“In the last year the retail listings of gluten-free products have increased by 10% which suggests that there is a real demand for these products,” he said.
“The perception is that products that do not contain gluten can assist in helping consumers achieve a healthier lifestyle. This is not solely limited to gluten-free branded offerings; products that are naturally free from gluten have also seen an increase. For example our Merchant Gourmet ready-to-eat ancient grain pouches, which offer a safe alternative to wheat, have experienced a 240% year-on-year sales growth “
“Across Europe the story is the same and even countries that are known for their carbohydrate intake, such as Italy, are now demanding gluten-free pasta and pizzas.
“There needs to be a shift in consciousness from viewing gluten-free as a niche and specialist area to a staple that consumers want and expect. Operators will need to move to align their offer with this demand if they are to avoid missing out on this profitable growth opportunity,” Moxham said.
Hamish Renton, one of the founders of Free-From Food Expo (being held in Brussels at the beginning of this month) sees free-from as a trend throughout the west.
“Across the developed world, free-from continues to grow in popularity as a top food trend, with many people opting in to the diet, often for healthy lifestyle reasons. Indeed, consumers are becoming more and more health-conscious. As a result, the sector has seen massive growth all over the world, particularly in Europe and North America.
“Retailers and food manufacturers are starting to realise the importance of free-from on-pack labelling. As a result, products that have always traditionally been gluten-free, such as crisps and popcorn, are now being branded specifically as free-from products, as it makes them more appealing to the ever health-conscious consumer.
“Free-from products are also becoming more ubiquitous and readily available and this is the case across multiple retailers, discounters, c-stores and foodservice channels,” he said.

£29m Amount spent last year by Scottish consumers on free-from products

£20.28 Annual spend on gluten-free bread by free-from shoppers