The A-Z of Retail: F Is For Free-From
ESM: European Supermarket Magazine is proud to launch 'The A-Z of Retail', a new subscriber-only series that offers a deep analysis of the retailers, suppliers and individuals making the news each week. Today: F is for Free-From.
While consumers continue to embrace Free-From categories as a healthier lifestyle choice, a new study alleges that 'going gluten-free' may not have as much effect from a health perspective as previously thought.
The study, by the UK-based Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics has suggested that for consumers without pre-existing conditions (such as coeliacs), the perceived benefits of a gluten-free diet are negligible.
“GF [gluten-free] food is unlikely to offer healthier alternatives to regular foods, except for those who require a GF diet for medically diagnosed conditions," the University of Hertfordshire researchers note.
The researchers also suggested that gluten-free products tend to be pricier than regular products.
But these findings are unlikely to sway most consumers, who have wholly embraced the Free-From category in the past few years and made it into one of the most dynamic segments in the supermarket industry.
One year ago, Euromonitor International described Free-From as being the 'undisputed' top trend of 2017 and its significance is primed to continue into 2018.
It is a market that continues to evolve at breakneck speed and, while gluten-free has dominated much of the market up until now, the awareness and availability of meat and dairy alternatives is also accelerating.
In the UK, recent data from Mintel (2016) shows that more than one in four (27%) consumers said they or someone else in their households avoid certain ingredients as part of a general healthy lifestyle, as opposed to 19% saying that they avoid foods due to a particular allergy or intolerance - an indication of the growing penetration of the Free-From category.
Private Label Development
Retailers in particular have embraced all things Free-From when developing their private label ranges.
In the Netherlands, Albert Heijn launched a new range of gluten-free bread as part of its 'Vrij van Gluten' (Free From Gluten) private label line last August, while in Italy, last summer saw Italy's SUN retail consortium launch a new dairy-free and gluten-free ice cream range under its Consilia private label line.
Sales from free-from products were worth over €6 billion in Italy in 2016, a 2.3% increase year-on-year.
In the UK, spurred by increased demand for vegan products (+25% growth in sales last year), Tesco introduced an array of vegan private-label products over the Christmas season. The retailer currently has the largest range of vegan meals in the UK. Elsewhere, Waitrose recently grew its store space devoted to vegetarian foods by 35%, by introducing 30 new dishes to its range
And in Spain, El Corte Inglés hosted a major shopping event to tie in with the most recent National Coeliac Day, which took place last May. At the event, the retailer said that sales of gluten-free products were up 17% year-on-year.
Brands have also caught onto the trend, with growing popularity of companies like Belgium's Alpro and Sweden-based Oatly. Unilever-owned ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s also recently expanded its vegan range made with almond milk to Europe.
Free-From is a trend that's showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. According to Euromonitor International, global sales of gluten-free food jumped 12.6% year on year in 2016 to be valued at $3.5 billion.
But where the free-from sector goes next will be one of the talking points at the forthcoming Free From/Functional Food Expo, which takes place in Stockholm, Sweden, on 16 and 17 May. Last year's event in Barcelona attracted more than 4,300 buyers - up by 29% on 2016. For more information, visit www.freefromfoodexpo.com
© 2018 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.