In the absence of a specific health condition, the decision to opt for “free from” products—fat-free, sugar-free, salt-free, gluten-free, and so on—can be viewed as a lifestyle choice by consumers who increasingly place a high priority on healthy living. Packaged Facts’ research showed the rate of U.S. consumers who claim they are watching their diet remained at an average of 52% between 2006 and 2013, compared to only 28% of Americans in 2004.
“Consumers avoid certain foods or food ingredients for preventive health reasons that may be for their own personal health, the health of their children, and, among pregnant women, as a factor in prenatal health,” said David Sprinkle, research director of Packaged Facts. “This is not about dealing with specific allergies but rather a matter of optimizing health and also about seeking to create a quality of life based on eliminating negatives, with the point being not to make oneself sick.”
Food manufacturers, recognizing the opportunity to appeal to concerned consumers who also tend to be trendsetters for other consumers, are extremely accommodating to this shift toward food avoidances, reformulating products to eliminate those ingredients that are being shunned. Of course, food manufacturers have been reformulating their products for decades, especially products in which the fat, sugar or salt contents needed to be reduced or eliminated in order to appeal to more health-conscious consumers. But Packaged Facts predicted there remains an opportunity for major food and beverage companies to become more active in producing “free from” products.