“The free-from market has been consistently growing at a rate of 20-30% year on year for a number of years now, and I don’t see any sign of the market declining. What’s interesting is that as sales continue to improve and retailers give free-from products more shelf space, so companies are making increasing efforts to raise the bar in terms of flavour, provenance, variety and innovation. It’s a virtuous circle that is now well embedded.
“I would say around 60% of free-from products are purchased by “lifestylers”. These are people who choose to purchase and eat free-from, on account of the perceived health benefits, rather than people who eat free-from due to a medical condition. In the UK, one in four consumers now purchase free-from.
“Having said that, I think that manufacturers need to keep working to improve the quality, variety and healthiness of their products, although we have seen some great improvements. Gluten-free pasta for example has changed beyond all recognition. Now on your supermarket shelves you can get pasta made from quinoa flour, red lentil flour, green peas, buckwheat, and in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours.
“Another category that is rapidly expanding is lactose-free. It’s been around for a long time but in the last two or three years it’s really been on the move. Lactose-free started with the dairy product we use the most – liquid milk – but is now moving strongly into butter, margarine, cheese and ice-cream. I’m also seeing a lot more lactose-free dairy options in restaurants, cafés and fast food outlets these days.
“As to the future, I see great potential for products based on what are called ancient grains or wonder grains, such as amaranth, millet, chia, quinoa, sunflower, pumpkin, flax and teff. Products made from these grains tick multiple boxes such as health, taste, free-from and innovation.
“My team and I are looking forward to being at the Free From Food Expo in Barcelona. Last year in Stockholm we attended the matchmaking event which was great fun. We met three or four interesting free-from manufacturers and were able to match them with UK retailers. We supported their selling efforts in the UK and I am happy to report they are all achieving success.
“See you in Barcelona!”