Free-from sales value in Europe increased by 11% in 2018. Leading markets for free-from in Europe (by sales value) are UK, Italy, Germany and Spain. Free-from products’ potential for development goes beyond Western Europe, as countries like Poland, Russia, Hungary, Lithuania, among many others, see a rapidly growing assortment of vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free products.
How about globally?
The global free-from category reached USD 56.3 billion in retail sales in 2018, increasing by 10% at current prices compared to the previous year. Over 50% of free-from sales value was generated in Asia-Pacific, where lactose intolerance is rather prevalent and soy-based meat substitutes, such as tofu, are part of traditional cuisine. In terms of per capita volume sales, Finland retains global leadership with nearly 29 kg/per capita. Over 2018-2023 we forecast Eastern Europe to see the strongest growth in sales volume of free-from products, driven by Russia and Poland. In value terms, Western Europe will be leading sales growth over the next five years.
What are the most important new trends that you expect to see impacting the industry?
In general, the most important trend in free-from categories is going beyond intolerance. Many consumers identify these products as healthier for them than the regular offerings even if they do not have any medical condition that prevents them from consuming lactose or gluten. More and more free-from products are considered to be easier to digest, and people feel better consuming them, which boosts growth of free-from ranges. Sustainability also appears to be an important reason to choose free-from meat or dairy alternatives. In this context, plant-based products are being promoted as more natural and sustainable alternatives as they produce a lower carbon footprint than dairy and meat.
What challenges need to be overcome in 2019?
The main challenges will be related to maintaining the growing demand from consumers who do not have coeliac disease or lactose intolerance. Supporting the idea that free-from is better than regular packaged food regardless of medical conditions one might have, is seen as a major task for manufacturers. This will especially be important in the long term, as the current fashion and newness of many free-from products will degrade over time.
What are your thoughts on labelling of gluten-free or other free-from foods, e.g. in restaurants? Are consumers getting the guidance and protection they are looking for?
Conditions under which foods may be labelled as “gluten-free” or “very-low gluten” are subject to EU regulation. The same is true for food containing common allergens. This covers packaged food and extends to food prepared in restaurants. Thus there are no real concerns about mislabelling free-from products, and guidance for consumers is rather standard.