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Allergen & free from claims in a plant-based world

2 Jun 2018 --- The need for free-from foods is driving innovation across many food sectors. There has been an unprecedented growth in the egg free and vegan sectors as both manufacturers and consumers alike exercise more caution when purchasing products containing eggs. The free-from industry has grown significantly over the last few years and foods without dairy, gluten or animal products are becoming much more mainstream and readily available on supermarket shelves and in the foodservice sector.

Bakery is the leading market category for products with free from claims, with Dairy and Sauces & Seasonings in second and third place respectively. Data from Innova Market Insights shows that one in 10 bakery products have a free from claim, which is largely down to the fact that gluten-free is the top free from claim in food and beverage launches.

Ria Tinga-Veld, Marketing Manager for Avebe, believes that this dyanmic is down to the shifts in consumer preference. “Like in many other sectors, preferences for health and convenience in the bakery sector, which goes hand in hand with trends such as all natural, reduced sugar and fat, free from gluten, clean label and healthy snacking options.”

“Ingredient wise, manufacturers in the bakery segment focus on the creation of ‘free from’ products. Whether that is fat, sugar, salt or more allergen related ingredients like gluten and eggs,” she notes.

Meanwhile, vegan claims show the most growth in launches tracked by Innova Market Insights and the fastest growing market category of new food & beverage launches with a vegan positioning (Global, average annual growth rate 2013-2017). New launches with a vegan positioning found an average annual growth rate of +45 percent globally (CAGR 2013-17), according to Innova Market Insights.

In response to this growing demand of free from foods and vegan foods, Ulrick & Short have developed their clean label, allergen free, non-GMO and vegan range of egg replacers: ovaprox. This is a cost-effective and price stable alternative to egg or egg powder, allowing manufacturers to remain competitive, while not having to worry about price fluctuations in the market. Based from either wheat or maize, the range is simply declarable as “starch” and has achieved up to 50 percent egg reduction in a variety of bakery goods such as muffins, cakes, premixes and even 100 percent replacement in applications like mayonnaise.

The way allergens are labeled on end products in Europe changed in December 2014, which meant that all 14 major allergens need to be highlighted on ingredients lists. Allergens such as celery, sesame, mustard, crustaceans and fish, nuts, eggs, fish, Lupin, soya and sulfites all need to be clearly listed and manufacturers now need to state where these are used or where foods are produced or exposed to these ingredients.

There is a rise in food allergy sufferers in the UK and around one percent of Britons suffer from celiac disease, with around 12 percent of adults choosing to follow a gluten-free diet. To feed this demand, food manufacturers and retailers are under pressure to bring high quality, differentiated products to market.

EHL Ingredients offers a range of herb and spice blends that are certified vegan and vegetarian and can offer them in allergen-free and organic formats too. Herbs and spices are an essential ingredient in free-from foods and they enhance the flavor profile of finished products, add color, taste and texture and bring visual appeal too.

“At the end of last year, we launched a 20-strong range of certified gluten-free herbs and spices in response to increasing consumer demand for free-from food products. Ingredients in the new gluten-free range include dried ground turmeric, cassia, star anise, oregano, ginger, chili, coriander seed, paprika and nutmeg. Herbs such as dried parsley, sage, basil and pepper have also been added to the list for food manufacturers to add to formulations and recipes for soups, sauces, marinades and meal kits, and world foods such as curries, tagines and stews,” Tasneem Backhouse, Joint Managing Director at EHL Ingredients tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“Consumers are looking for authentic, quality foods, flavors and textures in the free-from aisles and our ingredients offer food manufacturers and retailers quality, versatile, ingredients to create traditional favorites and innovative dishes for consumers to enjoy.”

“In addition, free-from junk food is another area we expect to see a surge in popularity. Vegan junk food in particular, such as pizzas, burgers, kebabs, grilled cheese and fried foods, is becoming increasingly mainstream and widely available in fast food outlets, on pop up stalls and markets, as well as at food and music festivals. This reveals a different side to veganism and vegetarianism, and our herbs, spices and blends can help create new ‘junk food’ style products and open up new opportunities,” notes Backhouse.

Cyril Carrat, Technical Director of KaTech Katharina Hahn + Partner GmbH (KaTech) also spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst: “Originally the free from category was fulfilling the expectations of the consumers that were suffering from an allergy or intolerance, so it was catering for a limited amount of people.”

The free from market has now spread over a wider range of consumers that buy those products for various reasons. Some of them are vegans, who are looking to have dairy or meat like textures while continuing a vegan lifestyle or flexitarians wanting to reduce their consumption of animal-based products.

“The other is widening the category more dramatically,” Carrat expressed a view that “people start to buy these products because they want to have a positive impact on the environment. They often look for alternatives that do not contain animal products, as they support the environmental issues that the world is facing.”

Some manufacturers are starting to use this category to offer new taste experiences rather than labeling their products as vegan or free from as before, according to Carrat. And he believes that the products that are the most successful will be the ones that bring those new eating experiences.

KaTech is known for its texture expertise, especially in the dairy and fine food segments. “When I look at the free from market, the three big categories that have been developing very strongly are dairy alternatives, gluten alternatives and meat alternatives,” says Carrat.

“The dairy-free market has been there for quite a long time but was dominated by products made with soy. Over the last five years, new sources of raw materials have been introduced to replace cow’s milk. The sector has started to flourish with new launches based on coconut, oat, lupin, rice, almond and other protein sources that fit the criteria, providing new taste and texture experiences in products that were typically made from cow’s milk.”

Carrat also notes that this market seems to move from a niche market, which was catering for a particular type of consumer, to a category that has opened up to a broader range of consumers that are buying for new reasons.

He also believes the market potential to further develop is relevant. “Applying existing processes to new protein sources is currently providing endless options to create new products. New bases, like nuts, pistachios and oats can be used to create new ranges of product with creative texture and flavor combination to be offered to the consumers,” he says.

Carrat points out that while these options are not fulfilling the traditional “ free from” category, they are fulfilling the requirements of consumers looking for vegetable-based alternatives. “With the shrinking availability of land and water resources on our planet, and the increasing awareness of the consumers, I would expect the free from category to continue to grow, not automatically because it is free from a specific allergen but because it is vegetable protein-based,” he explains.

In this category, opportunities for developing new products are everywhere and most activities seem to be focused on offering plant-based alternatives to traditional animal-based products. As this category expands further and the knowledge about these new protein bases is improving, Carrat hopes that new product categories will emerge, increasing the diversity of products on offer to the consumers.“As the demand for non-animal protein grows, it will be interesting to see which protein sources that food manufacturers will select,” he adds.

“I am particularly interested in the bakery segment that has actively developed its gluten-free offering but has not yet much on offer for consumers that do not want any animal-based components. We are actively developing concepts for the vegan bakery market to be able to support our customers if they're going to move in this direction in the future,” Carrat notes.

While the free from category in the UK had an initial health focus, around food allergies and intolerances, that segment may need a re-adjustment to cater for the consumers buying these products for ethical or environmental reasons, says Carrat. “There might even be enough space for a new category as the product offering increases,” he claims.

Last month the 2018 edition took place in Stockholm, Sweden (16-17 May). Over two days, visitors could discover the key drivers and future trends in the flourishing free from market. As the gluten intolerance center of Europe, Italy was represented by many more exhibitors this year, according to Ronald Holman, Exhibition Director. Gluten-free pasta, bread and pizza bases; reduced salt and reduced fat cold cuts and free from ingredients, generated high demand from buyers. The next Free From Functional Food Expo is 28-29 May 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

Holman notes: “Each show is at the forefront of the dynamic free from sector, and this year’s edition was no exception. We welcomed visitors from all of the major retailers from across Europe including Ocado and Sainsburys. As long as free from and functional food continue to follow the now established pathway onto retailer’s shelves, operator’s menus and ultimately onto consumer’s plates, we will continue to provide one of the best platforms in the world to reflect and drive this.”

The free from sector continues to innovate, and free from foods have made their mark on the food industry as a whole. The next question is: where will it go next?

Free From Functional Food Ingredients Exhibition