Free-from foods are becoming increasingly relevant to all consumers, not just those who have a specific allergy or intolerance.
By Jane Dummer
The popularity of free-from foods has surged in the Canadian marketplace over the past decade. Where consumers once had to thoroughly read ingredients lists on packaged food, there are now entire grocery aisles dedicated to gluten-free, dairy-free, and other allergen-free food. According to a 2011 Euromonitor report, the Canadian food intolerance market is globally ranked 10th at a value of $161.3 million US. The U.S. has the largest market at $3.4 billion US.
Foods bearing free-from claims are increasingly relevant to Americans, as they perceive the products as closely tied to health, according to research in Mintel’s “Free-from Food Trends – US – May 2015”. The report indicates 84 per cent of American free-from consumers buy free-from foods because they are seeking out more natural or less processed foods. In addition, 43 per cent of consumers agree that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim.
“All major markets have seen a continued growth in free-from foods, in terms of value and diversity and consumer penetration of free-from foods is still on the up,” says David Jago, director of innovation and insight for Mintel. “Specialty free-from brands have continued to expand internationally, and more major multinationals have joined the market. Supermarkets have recognized the growth potential, but the retail situation differs considerably from one market to another. In the U.K., supermarkets tend to stock a reasonably wide range, whereas in Italy specialist stores tend to dominate.”
In the baking sector the free-from consumer market is made up of three segments: people with allergies and intolerances; individuals influenced by the trends or celebrity behaviour (i.e. the Gwyneth Paltrow effect) and the vegan population. Some marketers believe last year was when free-from truly went mainstream and Innova Market Insights has identified “Free From, For All” as a key trend for 2016. It is interesting with this sector: it’s all about promoting the ingredients not in the product.
As a health professional, I weekly hear the reasons why consumers are buying free-from foods. The number one reason is they have a food allergy or intolerance or they regularly eat meals with someone who has a food intolerance or allergy. Next, some believe free-from foods will make them healthier, feel better or help them lose weight. This has created an evolving opportunity for the baking industry. Consumer need and demand is attracting a larger market for dedicated free-from baked goods including gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free.
If you’ve created any free-from products, you know it can be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process of replacing wheat flour, dairy and eggs to achieve the delicious flavours and textures in baked goods. To replace wheat flour, founder Celine Ikeler of California’s Karma Baker (a gourmet organic, vegan and gluten-free bakery) has created an all-purpose flour blend combining organic sorghum flour, tapioca, rice flour and potato starch that she uses in all of her recipes and sells to her customers. The awareness of milk allergies and lactose intolerance/sensitivity has made the dairy-free market a fast growing niche. On-trend dairy milk alternatives include almond, soy, rice, oat and flaxseed beverages, all of which can be used in baking.
In “The Pulse on Pulses” (Final Proof, March 2016), I identified how Canadian manufacturer Best Cooking Pulses is collaborating with bakeries to replace eggs with pulses. A recent innovative discovery “aquafaba” refers to the liquid in a can of chickpeas. This liquid can be beat into a meringue, creating a vegan egg replacer. I discovered how easily seeds can replace nuts in products when I was testing out the twenty-one recipes for my book The Need for Seeds. Bakers and product developers are increasing the seed content in specific product lines to offer crunchy alternatives in the nut-free category.
As the free-from category matures, it will be interesting to see how mainstream brands continue to respond in the baking sector. Marketers are already working the angle that free-from products are good for everyone and not just for those with an allergy or intolerance. To continue mainstream growth, the free-from foods need to be readily available for a reasonable price and taste as good, if not better, than the original.
Jane Dummer, RD (www.janedummer.com), known as the Pod to Plate Food Consultant, collaborates and partners with the food and nutrition industry across North America.