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Michelle Berriedale-Johnson on how “free from” started in the UK!

FreeFrom Foods matter – how “free from” started in the UK!

Which factors are driving growth for the “free from” market?

Within the UK and also within the American market the number of people with food allergies and celiac disease is growing. This means “free from” is becoming part of the genuine market.

In addition there are all those people with self-diagnosed food problems. They might not ever have undergone medical testing, but they feel much better, when they are following a gluten free, dairy free etc. diet.

But the biggest “free from” growth area is the people who are choosing to live “free from” because they think it’s healthier, it fits into their lifestyle and their ethical approach to life, be that sustainability, food miles or animal. This is a very significant growth area!

So now, in the UK, many of the seriously big manufacturers are looking seriously at freefrom. When they looked at their product portfolio, they found that a large numbers of their products were naturally gluten free, dairy free, fructose free etc., so this gave them a new marketing angle. For example Nestlé and Kellogg’s both have gluten free cereals now! In the case of corn flakes, corn is naturally gluten free so this is not a major innovation, but, to be able to market the product as ‘freefrom’ all manufacturers do have to ensure that the product is contamination free.

Manufacturers argue, that consumers often cannot tell whether a product is naturally “free from” or not….

Well, if they claim an apple as gluten free it sounds ridiculous to me and I would consider this a silly claim.

But there are a so many manufactured products, where there is a really small amount of allergen to be replaced. Maybe the manufacturer used a thickener or some dairy ingredient, which is not really crucial to the product and can easily be removed.    

From a manufacturers point of view it’s worth their while looking at their product portfolio and making that small change to the recipe and then they can claim them to be “free from”. This is a powerful marketing tool, as long as it is in a sensible context. The virtue of this development is, that it is continuously increasing the number of “free from” products available in the market, which is god for people who genuinely need it.

Fortunately the regulation is quite strict, so manufacturers cannot just apply a gluten free flasher without making sure the product genuinely is gluten free.

And “free from” products do have a better margin…

“Free from” food certainly has a better margin. There is an issue about the price of “free from” products, because they are significantly more expensive than “non free from” food. Sometimes a higher price is justified, sometimes it’s not.

In the case of making bread, for example, it is much more difficult to make “free from” bread than baking regular bread. You need different ingredients and these ingredients are more expensive. The processes are more difficult, because contamination has to be strictly avoided and subsequently safety regulations are stricter. Also, the failure rate is much higher for free from bread because you are dealing with much less stable ingredients, so there genuinely are good reasons why “free from” bread should be more expensive.

But then there are other areas like, for example, tomato ketchup, which is by definition gluten free and dairy free but nevertheless is charged at twice the price of regular tomato ketchup, when it carries a ”free from” label. Maybe the manufacturer had to do a bit more testing for possible contamination but this does not justify such a high price.

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