Bright Future for the “Free From” Food Movement

As a general trend, consumers in developed countries are moving away from heavily processed foods and drinks and are looking for products that they perceive as more natural, which results in organic, free from and naturally healthy (NH) growing ahead of fortified/functional (FF) and better for you (BFY). In the case of FF, although these products are artificially fortified with a wide range of nutrients (protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, etc), some of them, such as FF milk formula, energy drinks or probiotic yoghurt are still boosting growth of FF, in addition to the high protein trend, which does not seem to be fading in the short term.

Free from dairy and free from gluten show the largest potential

Looking at the free from space at a global level, free from dairy was the largest category in 2016. This is attributed to plant-based milk alternatives, such as soy, almond, coconut and rice milks. However, in growth terms, free from gluten stands out. This offering is expected to post a 7% CAGR over the forecast period. Gone are the days when such products were consumed only by sufferers of coeliac disease, with gluten free diets followed by many different groups of consumers with an increasing desire for grains that are naturally gluten free such as quinoa, millet, teff and amaranth.

Sales and Growth of Free From by Type

free from by type

Source: Euromonitor International 

Key features boosting growth of free form ranges

The first and most obvious is the intolerance of some consumers to substances such as gluten or lactose as well as allergies to milk protein. There was a time when free from products were developed to tackle a small minority of people with this medical need and it is still the main reason for success in countries such as China.

However, the trend has gone beyond intolerance. Many consumers identify these products as healthier for them than the regular offerings. They perceive them as easier to digest and they feel better consuming them, boosting growth of free from ranges.

The latter is very related with the fact that these products have become more and more fashionable. There is a host of A-list celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus, to name a few, that promote free from products as the ultimate health. Many consumers follow the trend not even knowing, in many cases, what these products actually are. In other cases, taste is the reason. Consumers get bored quickly and they look for new flavours and alternatives, so diversity is key.

Bright future for free from products

The future will continue seeing growth for free from ranges with an estimated 5.5% CAGR over the forecast period. Denmark is expected to show the largest growth, which stems from consumers who, due to a variety of reasons, decide to (occasionally) avoid lactose, gluten, dairy or meat, and not as a nutritional need. The most important reasons for this decision are health, environmental and animal welfare considerations.

However, growth is not expected to come only from countries where these products are already well established. In fact, Chile, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco are estimated to be the key forecast growth drivers for free form ranges, after Denmark.

Key Recommendations

Key players need to focus on natural ingredients, plant-based dairy alternatives with added nutritional value and health functionality as the way forward, with walnut milk appearing to be a good option. The same trend should be followed in the gluten-free space, looking at naturally gluten-free options such as ancient grains or legume and vegetable ingredients, with high nutritional content.

In addition, due to the incredible interest in free from ranges, key players need to look at companies that are already successful in the free from arena and think about investments and acquisitions. This way they can develop presence in this arena and gain the knowledge and experience needed from them.