Steady rise in free from
Years ago, the phrase Free From either wasn’t heard of, or conjured up thoughts and tastes of inedible foods with a likeness to cardboard! Oh, how things have changed, and for the better; we now have an abundance of foods which are not only delicious but cater for the many Free From categories we as consumers demand.
Now, we have awards in their 10th Anniversary dedicated to Free From, eating out awards, expert producers who specialise in these foods, retailers who have devoted if not their entire business, but aisles to it, and shows, festivals and restaurants where Free From consumers are in foodie heaven.
Just what is Free From?
Food allergies and intolerances are life changing. In the UK they affect around 8% of children and 2% of adults. Consumers who make a free from purchase are also driven by their own lifestyle choice, so not necessarily living with a diagnosed health condition, just their belief that they feel better eating in this way; this was confirmed to me by my free from buyer at Waitrose at the time when I listed Scrubbys. I think this could be due in part to the quality of gluten-free foods which has increased over time as manufacturers improve the taste, texture, and ingredients.
The most popular types of Free From Food and Drink are;
- Wheat Free / Gluten Free (flours, cakes, biscuits, pasta, bread). Products such as gluten-free bread have helped the ‘free-from’ category grow by over a third in the past year.
- Cow Dairy Free (Milk, yoghurt, butter, desserts, cheese)
- Nut Free (cakes, biscuits, chocolates, sweets, sauces)
- Egg Free (cakes, mayonnaise)
So, when did the demand for Free From accelerate?
This is hard to say exactly, but Free From first came onto my personal radar as I was weaning my eldest daughter in 1998 when I discovered she was allergic to dairy. At the time navigating through this and accessing a variety of products was difficult, as was the initial diagnosis. Thankfully that’s not the case now, awareness of allergies, how to live with these and food choice is so much better.
Will the time come when meat and sugar are added to the free-from list also?
I can see this coming; the underpin to ‘Free-From’ is health, and there is a strong growth in meat-free with more than a third of evening meals now being vegetarian, consumers are expressing their flexitarian desires. Whilst almost two thirds of households (62%) say they are very or fairly concerned about sugar consumption, higher than any other nutrient and up 41% on last year.
Is Free From here to stay?
Absolutely; there is a steady rise in people searching for whole and real food diets. The top diets growing consistently each year include: vegan, gluten free and dairy free. Over 3 years, “vegan” searches have risen by 221%, “gluten free” by 69% and “dairy free” by 91%. I can only see a demand for a cleaner/healthier lifestyle continuing to grow, and for many this includes a free from diet.
By Claire Brumby, The Food Guide