Free From FAQ’s

What is Free From Food ?

Free From is a catch-all term used to denote food and drink that has been designed to exclude one or more ingredients to which at least some consumers can have either an allergic or an intolerance.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is usually defined as a specific response by the immune system to a substance which it mistakenly believes to be harmful. The Food Standards Agency requires that the presence of 12 specific allergens is highlighted on product labels. These are:

  • cereals containing gluten
  • crustaceans, mollusks and fish
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • nuts
  • soybeans
  • milk
  • celery
  • mustard
  • sesame
  • lupin
  • sulphur dioxide (if above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre)

What is an intolerance?

Some people suffer adverse reactions to substances, particularly foods, which have not sparked an immune system response. These responses are normally classed as intolerances or sensitivities and have a very wide range of causes, symptoms and degrees of severity. Some conditions, such as coeliac disease or phenylketonuria are caused by specific foods or food components, such as gluten or the amino acid phenylalanine respectively.

What are the most popular types of Free From food and drink ?

A survey of supermarkets and natural food retailers would indicate that the most commercially significant sectors of the Free From market are:

  • Wheat Free / Gluten Free (flours, cakes, biscuits, pasta, bread)
  • Cow Dairy Free ( Milk, yoghurt, butter, desserts, cheese)
  • Nut Free (cakes, biscuits, chocolates, sweets, sauces)
  • Egg Free (cakes, mayonnaise)

 It is possible that recent media attention on the amount of sugar in the UK diet may bring products made without sugar (sucrose) such as jam and chocolate back into the Free From sector.

What is the size of the market for Free From food and drink ?

In March 2016 Kantar WorldPanel estimated the current size of the UK Free From market as around £586m million per year at retail, up 26.7% year-on-year. More than half the UK population (55.2%) are now buying free-from products.

Lifestyle-choice is playing a big part in this growth. Far more consumers buy into free-from than those who have been diagnosed with a food-related condition. Only 1% of the UK population have coeliac disaese and so must avoid gluten, while an estimated 15% are intolerant to lactose (Kantar). YouGov research indicates that free-from buyers with an allergy or intolerance are now in a minority.

Research commissioned by The Grocer in November 2015 states that “one fifth of Brits regularly shop in the free-from section, yet only 13% have a medical condition that requires them to avoid gluen, wheat, dairy or lactose.” 35% of shoppers buy free-from for their general health, rather than to address specific ailments or intolerances. 58% of UK shoppers are receptive to the category, but 34% of shoppers claim they would shop free-from more frequently if the products were cheaper. The placement of free-from products instore is an area that divides the nation. 45% of Brits would prefer to buy them from the general range while 29% enjoy the dedicated free-from section.

Increased penetration is a key growth driver. Increased ranges and innovation has increased the number of people buying free-from. Existing shoppers are also choosing to buy free-from more frequently, pushing up volume per purchaser.

Over the 12 month period to March 2016 Tesco lead the pack with its free-from goods having put an extra £39.3m (22.3%) through its tills, followed by Asda (£29.9m, + 36.7%), Sainsbury’s (£29.9m, +36.7%) and Morrisons (£18.4m, +44.3%). Aldi and Lidl barely registered in the UK Free From market during this period, according to Kantar WorldPanel.

According to Kantar the largest categories by sales are dairy alternatives (£112m), ambient bakery (£106m), biscuits (£84m) and fresh meat (£61m).

Two Changes In Legislation

Under the new European Union regulations which came into effect on January 1st 2012, only foods that contain less than 20 parts of gluten in a million will be allowed to use the term ‘gluten-free’ on their packaging. Previously, a food labelled ‘gluten free’ could have contained up to ten times more than this.

In addition, some foods made using cereals that have been specially processed to remove most of the gluten, but which contain less than 100 parts of gluten in a million, will be able to make the claim ‘very low gluten’ on the packaging. These include substitutes of certain staple foods such as bread.

Industry sources have expressed concern that 20ppm gluten will prove to be an unworkably low level and that either products will be withdrawn from sale or gluten-free claims will be dropped. Already one major supplier of lentils has advised their customers that henceforth their products should not be described as gluten-free because of the risk of cross contamination.

The EU’s Food Information to Consumers Regulation came into force on December 13 2014. All eating-out establishments must be able to inform their customers as to whether any of the 14 major allergens are contained in their foods. This change has been described as a “massive opportunity” for food service suppliers by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the Free From Food Awards.

A Useful Link

In November 2015 free-from guidelines were jointly issued by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) andby the Food & Drink Federation (FDF). Although voluntary they provide a useful set of core principles which allow a free-from claim to be made onpack.