Where Next For Free From ?

The UK Free From sector is going great guns. In 2014 Kantar WorldPanel estimated the current size of the UK Free From market as around £355m million per year at retail, up 19.9% year-on-year. Mintel anticipate that sales will increase to £538m by 2018. More than half the UK population are now buying free-from products.

 There is another fascinating statistic, this time from a 2014 YouGov poll. 55% of buyers of Free From do not suffer from or live with anyone who suffers from a food allergy or intolerance. So this vibrant sector is now dominated by people who are buying Free From products not because they have to, but because they want to: it makes them feel better to eat in this way. So-called Lifestylers are responsible for the rapid growth of the sector, but will they stay with it or will they tempted off to an even more fashionable way of eating ? (Raw? Paleo? Superfoods?). And then there is the term Free From itself. No-one really agrees as to exactly what it covers. Gluten/wheat and (cow) dairy certainly but what else? The legal requirements to declare 12 specific allergens include celery and lupin, but a “Lupin Free!” claim has yet to be seen onpack.

 With all the concern about the amount of sugar in the diet resulting in the launch of a new wave of no added sugar products should these be merchandised under the Free From banner ? And where does that leave vegetarian food? Now rebranded as Meat Free to appeal to a more mainstream audience – surely Meat Free is part of Free From?

 We are a long way from having a legal definition of Free From, so it will continue to mean different things to different people with the possibility of consumer confusion and frustration. Maybe Free From is not that great a name anyway. It does mean we are building a sector on negative marketing. So what about pushing positive health ? Alpro have done a great job here with their exhortation to “Enjoy Plant Power”, although Beyonce allegedly living for 22 days on a kale-based diet seems to be taking things a bit far.

Doubtless there will be attempts to answer these questions at The Allergy And Free From Show, to be held in Olympia on 3-5 July (http://www.allergyshow.co.uk/london/ ). I will be there, running a seminar on July 3rd where we will ruminate on such matters. Come and say hello!