I would say that free-from is one of the winners within the Health & Wellness sector, along with organics. Both categories are recording significant growth at a global level and in particular free-from led growth in developed countries. Free-from food was valued at USD33 billion at a global level in 2016. The consumption of these products has moved beyond intolerances and allergies and the health-conscious consumer, to those concerned about sustainability issues.
The more economically developed geographies, mainly North America and Western Europe, account for the majority of the global market. However, emerging countries are following suit, with Chile, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco showing growth potential in the free-from arena.
The largest category is free-from dairy. This is strongly related to the increasing loss in popularity of cow's milk at the expense of milk alternatives. While some years ago the offering was limited to soy milk, other milk alternatives are growing in popularity and they have already overtaken soy milk in terms of retail sales value. Almond milk is one of the main on-trend alternatives, as well as coconut, oat and rice milk. Other legumes and nuts, such as cashews, hazelnuts and pistachios, or even peas and pulses, are also growing in popularity to produce plant-based milk alternatives.
I think that high carb products have been perceived as unhealthy and nutritionally poor by many consumers. This has resulted in a reduction of retail sales of high carb products such as bread, pasta, rice and cereals while gluten-free variants are rising to stardom as they are perceived as healthier versions with some added value.
Naturally gluten-free grains such as amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, millet and teff are very on trend and will be a huge part of new product developments in the coming years. They will be included in bread and breakfast cereals, as well as in snack bars and other ready-to-eat foods to meet consumer demand for convenience.
I think an important challenge is the huge competition appearing in the free-from space. Many strong brands such as Genius and Mr. Crimbles are re-branding their gluten-free products in the UK, featuring a new logo and revised colour palettes in order to stand out on the shelves. I think an interesting NPD in 2017 was the launch of Mr. Crimbles on-the-go cake bars which brought gluten-free cakes into the food-to-go section.