The free-from foods market is booming in many parts of the world, widening into new categories and increasingly moving into the mainstream with introductions from major manufacturers and brands.
Considerable effort has gone into developing gluten-free and lactose-free products globally in recent years, but at the same time, the free-from category is widening out to include broader definitions such as dairy-free, additive- and preservative- free and increasingly, GM-free.
The clean-label trend has moved forward considerably in recent years and nearly 13 per cent of total food and drink launches recorded globally in 2013 used additive- and/or preservative-free claims, up from 10 per cent in 2008.
While claims using the term ‘natural’ have increasingly come under fire for lack of clarity regarding definition, the use of additive-free and preservative-free claims has been able to move forward relatively unhindered.
Interest in “naturalness” is still highly evident, however, and is also reflected in the growing use of GM-free labelling. Although, it remains relatively limited on a global scale, just 2.3 per cent of global launches tracked used GM-free labelling in 2013.
The global bakery category has among the largest number of launches, along with snacks and dairy, reflecting the significance of GM ingredients in sectors using high levels of cereals for food or feed – ahead of meat, fish and eggs, confectionery and ready meals – ahead of meat, fish and eggs, confectionery and ready meals.
Meanwhile, back in the more traditional free-from sector, gluten-free lines continue to see rising availability, increasingly moving out of the specialist dietetic sector and into the mainstream market. Nearly 8 per cent of product launches recorded in 2013 used a gluten-free positioning, rising to 10 per cent in Western Europe and nearly 14 per cent in the US. This growth is partly due to improved labelling regulations, but also to rising awareness of gluten intolerance in the diet and the development of more mainstream and good-tasting gluten-free products across a range of food and drinks sectors.
Cadbury Chocolate Mouse and Almond Cake is an example of a frozen dessert product, retailing in the UK, with a number of free-from claims including “free from preservatives and artificial colourings”, as well as “suitable for vegetarians”, “Kosher” and certified halal”.
The surge in interest in ancient grains, such as chia, buckwheat, quinoa, hemp, spelt and amaranth, is certainly doing its part to cater to the increased demand for “free from” foods markets.
Tracked global product launches containing chia rose from barely into three figures five years ago to almost 600 in 2013, with 46 per cent growth recorded in 2013 compared to 2012. Meanwhile, quinoa product launch activity experienced 37 per cent growth in 2013 from 2012. North America dominated chia product launch activity in 2013, with 65 per cent of total introductions recorded, followed by chia’s home market, Latin America (11 per cent), Europe (10 per cent) and Australasia (7.5 per cent).
In April, SuperSeedz, one of America’s fastest growing healthy snack brands announced they have received verification by the Non-GMO Project for their entire product line of dry roasted, no shell, gourmet pumpkin seeds. It followed an announcement from Peak Organic Brewing Company, which claims to be the first brewer to make Non-GMO Project Verified beer. Peak has also partnered with the Just Label It campaign, a national coalition of more than 650 organisations and 300,000 members committed to calling for mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods.
Currently, 64 countries around the world require the labelling GM foods. The US is not one of them.
It is clear the free-from sector is set for further growth, with interest continuing to spread from those diagnosed as specific allergies and intolerances, via the self-diagnosed to those with a more general interest in health and well-being. The ongoing development of a greater range of products with a high-quality image and a good-taste profile is helping this along.