Free-from foods

Healthy growth in the ‘free from’ markets, says new report

The market for ‘free from’ foods shows strong growth in the US and Western Europe according to new research from Leatherhead Food Research, a leading UK-based independent research organisation.

According to Leatherhead’s new report, Food Allergies and Intolerances: Consumer Perceptions and Market Opportunities for ‘Free From’ Foods, the largest market is currently the lactose– and dairy-​free market with estimated sales of $3.6bn in 2010. Much of the growth in this market is thought to be driven by increased consumption of products such as soy milk.

However, in terms of product claims, gluten free is the fastest growing ‘suitable for/​free from’ claim indicating that this market has strong growth potential in upcoming years. The market for gluten-​free foods in the US and Western Europe is believed to be worth around USD3.5bn in 2010.

Much of the anticipated growth in the gluten-​free sector is linked to ‘healthy’ perceptions of gluten-​free foods, particularly among groups of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of their diet, health and well-​being and therefore actively seek ‘suitable for/​free from’ products without having a diagnosed allergy.

Indeed, a consumer survey of 3 000 consumers – published within the Leatherhead report – suggests that American and European consumers perceive the main benefits of ‘free from’ foods to be:

  • To maintain a healthy balanced diet
  • To help cope with a condition
  • To help digestive health

This goes some way to validating the theory that ‘suitable for/​free from’ foods have the ability to extend their appeal to a wider audience, moving beyond those consumers with a diagnosed food allergy. In addition, a high proportion (39%) of the total survey sample (3 000) answered that they had some form of intolerance or sensitivity to food; this suggests that there are lucrative opportunities to be had in this market.

Whilst up till now the market has developed through niche brands with a ‘free from’ USP, it is expected that an increasing number of recognisable household brands will enter the marketplace.

Consumers have come to expect products to be healthy and taste good and are reluctant to trade one off against the other. Ingredient and technology innovations will therefore help to drive this market forwards, for example solutions to improve taste, texture and structure of ‘free from’ foods are in demand.

These factors, combined with the growing interest in this area from retailers, emphasises the need for ‘free from’ foods to first and foremost be as good as or better than category standard.

The full report Food Allergies and Intolerances: Consumer Perceptions and Market Opportunities for ‘Free From’ Foods is available now from Leatherhead Food Research priced at £2 900 for Leatherhead Members and £3 450 for Non-Members. Visit for more details.