1. The Food industry has seen diets and food fads come and go. Are ‘Free From’ foods a passing phase?
No, we don’t think so! Around two in five households in the UK report free from diets, despite just 2% of the population being allergic to common foods. In the Republic of Ireland, 8% of consumers in Mintel research say that they avoid gluten or wheat. Many of the avoiders do so as part of a “generally healthy lifestyle”, indicating that consumers readily buy into a very broad repertoire of foods including the overtly healthy (low fat, low calorie, low sugar), organic foods, free from foods, and more. For these consumers, free from is part of the overall health & wellness picture. It’s also worth noting that free from foods have grown steadily over time, across diverse markets – in contrast to diet fads like low carb, which grew very rapidly in the mid-2000s and practically disappeared just as quickly.
2. Traditionally, ‘Sugar free,’ ‘gluten free,’ ‘lactose free,’ were often quoted as being ‘fun free’ because of poor taste. What are the main drivers of these niche foods being pushed into the trolley of the mainstream consumer?
The market for free from foods has come a long way since the early days of free from fun, free from flavour! As the market has moved increasingly mainstream, so producers have needed to formulate better quality, better-tasting products to meet the demands of consumers for whom free from is a choice, not a necessity. The key to success is taste with health, and indulgence values are increasingly promoted front-of-pack. Indeed, taste has been a key driver behind the success of indulgence-driven, free from brands like Udi’s (cereals, bakery products and snacks), and taste rather than lactose intolerance has become a key factor in the growth of dairy-free milks like almond milk, coconut milk, or cashew milk.
3. We know Millennials are quick to adapt to change in the technology world, but how are they as food consumers?
Millennials, by which we mean 16-34 year olds, are much more likely than average to engage in the free from lifestyle. In the UK, for example, they are 31% more likely than average to avoid red meat or poultry, and 40% more likely than average to avoid dairy, lactose, wheat or gluten. This is a generation that gets its information and dietary advice from the internet and from peers or family, rather than health professionals, so issues get “mainstreamed” quickly.
4. With the ‘fight against sugar’ a hot topic within the media, sugar is now seen as the biggest health threat to the next generation. How will the food giants of the carbonated drinks and confectionery industry survive?
The major players have already taken steps to counter the negatives – they have introduced more products with sugar-free or reduced sugar formulations, they’ve launched products like Coke Life with stevia (a “natural” low calorie sweetener), and they place greater focus on appropriate treating with portion control. Confectionery and soft drinks companies will shift their product portfolios further towards “better for you” options. In the meantime, consumers largely understand what they should and shouldn’t do, and what they should eat and drink in moderation – they just need to be encouraged to make the right choices, and have more of those good choices readily available.
5. Brands are now reassessing their ingredients list because of this ‘free from’ trend, but will this cause a review of any other areas within the marketing remit?
From the point of view of promotion and communication, better for you foods traditionally focused on “low in” claims and put the emphasis on what is not in a product. That’s likely to be further re-evaluated, as the focus shifts more to the positives of healthy eating (the goodness of wholesome ingredients), rather than the negatives of dieting and the sense of “punishment” that goes with it.
6. If you had one piece of advice for food brands over the next 5 years, what would it be and why?
Educate the consumer! Nowadays consumers have more information at their fingertips (nutritional advice is only an app away), yet are more sceptical than ever of the food industry. The industry needs to start explaining to consumers, in consumer-friendly terms, just what goes into a product, and why, as well as where it comes from and how it was processed to get there.