According to Leatherhead’s new report “Food Allergies and Intolerances: Consumer Perceptions and Market Opportunities for 'Free From' Foods,” the largest market is currently the lactose- and dairy-free market with estimated sales of $3.6 billion in 2010. Much of the growth in this market is thought to be driven by increased consumption of products such as soy milk.
However, in terms of product claims, gluten free is the fastest growing “suitable for/free from” claim indicating that this market has strong growth potential in upcoming years. The market for gluten-free foods in the U.S. and Western Europe is believed to be worth around $3.5 billion in 2010. Much of the anticipated growth in the gluten-free sector is linked to healthy perceptions of gluten-free foods, particularly among groups of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of their diet, health and well-being and therefore actively seek suitable for/free from products without having a diagnosed allergy.
Indeed, a consumer survey of 3000 consumers, published within the Leatherhead report, suggests that American and European consumers perceive the main benefits of “free from” foods to be: To maintain a healthy balanced diet; To help cope with a condition; To help digestive health.
This goes some way to validating the theory that “free from” foods have the ability to extend their appeal to a wider audience, moving beyond those consumers with a diagnosed food allergy. In addition, a high proportion (39%) of the total survey sample answered that they had some form of intolerance or sensitivity to food; this suggests that there are lucrative opportunities to be had in this market.
While until now the market has developed through niche brands with a “free from” USP, it is expected that an increasing number of recognizable household brands will enter the marketplace. In addition, consumers have come to expect products to be healthy and taste good and are reluctant to trade one off against the other. Ingredient and technology innovations will therefore help to drive this market forward, for example solutions to improve taste, texture and structure of “free from” foods are in demand.
These factors, combined with the growing interest in this area from retailers, emphasizes the need for “free from” foods to first and foremost be as good as or better than category standard.