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Free-from foods move into the mainstream

06 May, 2014

The free-from foods market is booming in many parts of the world, widening into new categories and increasingly moving into the mainstream with introductions from major manufacturers and brands.

Leading supermarket multiples are dedicating more shelf-space and improving in-store signage, as well as offering their own brand ranges in many instances.

According to Innova Market Insights, considerable effort has gone into developing gluten-free and lactose-free products globally in recent years, but at the same time the whole free-from category is widening out to include broader definitions such as dairy-free, additive- and preservative- free and even, increasingly, GM-free.

The clean-label trend has moved forward considerably in recent years and nearly 13 per cent of total food and drink launches recorded globally in 2013 used additive- and/or preservative-free claims, up from 10 per cent in 2008. Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights says: "While claims using the term 'natural' have increasingly come under fire for lack of clarity regarding definition, the use of additive-free and preservative-free claims has been able to move forward relatively unhindered."

"Interest in naturalness is still highly evident, however, and is also reflected in the growing use of GM-free labelling," she contends "although it remains relatively limited on a global scale." Just 2.3 per cent of global launches tracked used GM-free labelling in 2013. Snacks, bakery and dairy have the largest number of launches, reflecting the significance of GM ingredients in sectors using high levels of cereals for food or feed, ahead of meat, fish and eggs, confectionery and ready meals.

Meanwhile, back in the more traditional free-from sector, gluten-free lines continue to see rising availability, increasingly moving out of the specialist dietetic sector and into the mainstream market. Nearly 8 per cent of product launches recorded in 2013 used a gluten-free positioning, rising to 10 per cent in Western Europe and nearly 14 per cent in the USA. This growth is partly due to improved labelling regulations, but also to rising awareness of gluten intolerance in the diet and the development of more mainstream and good-tasting gluten-free products across a range of food and drinks sectors.

The use of lactose-free claims has been less popular than gluten-free, but even so 1.5 per cent of launches used this kind of positioning in 2013, double the share five years previously. The dairy market has, perhaps not surprisingly, seen the highest levels of activity, accounting for over one-third of total lactose-free launches, with 7 per cent of dairy launches using this type of claim. Levels of interest and product activity have been particularly high in North America and Western Europe, where 10 per cent of dairy launches used this type of positioning.

Williams notes: "It is clear that the free-from sector is set for further growth, with interest continuing to spread from those diagnosed as specific allergies and intolerances, via the self-diagnosed to those with a more general interest in health and wellbeing.

"The ongoing development of a greater range of products with a high-quality image and a good-taste profile is helping this along," she concludes.