The main driver of growth in the free-from foods category is not specifically driven by allergies or dietary intolerances, finds a new study from The NPD Group. Instead, it is consumers who are wanting to make healthier lifestyle choices.
According to the study, 23 per cent of the Australians surveyed consume meals that are free-from to improve health (13 per cent), because they are perceived to be better for you (13 per cent), to support animal welfare (four per cent) and for allergy related reasons (only three per cent).
“Traditionally, manufacturers of free-from foods were there solely to meet the requirements of those dealing with dietary intolerances,” The NPD Group Deputy Director APAC Gimantha Jayasinghe said.
“Nowadays, demand for these products is more about consuming food that is better for you.”
Growth and opportunities
Within the free-from food sector, 36 per cent of respondents indicated that their meals were vegetarian/vegan or allergy/intolerance-related.
Of these, four per cent of respondents claimed to have had a gluten-free meal, which The NPD Group says is 11 per cent higher than a year ago.
“It’s not just people who can’t eat dairy or gluten that are fuelling the market. You no longer need a medical reason to opt out of certain foods. Increasingly people are making a choice to restrict food groups as a health and lifestyle choice,” Mr Jayasinghe said.
“What’s interesting is that it appears people believe eliminating food groups is better for them, but they don’t always understand why. There is an opportunity here for manufacturers of free-from foods to educate their customers on why their products are healthier both on pack and through their communications.
“We also know that consumers are willing to pay more for the health benefits associated with free-from foods.”
Millennials lead the way
The NPD Group says the data also shows that millennials are driving the demand of free-from meals, with 47 per cent of those purchasing falling within the millennial age bracket.
Further to this, consumers are seeking more vegan, plant-based and vegetarian options, with 57 per cent of those searching for these options falling into the older millennial age bracket (25 to 34-years-of-age).
“The food industry is evolving for the better,” Mr Jayasinghe said. “Largely driven by proactive millennial aged consumers tired of products that don’t fit their beliefs or preferred diet.
“What is also important to remember with free-from foods, is that they also have to taste good and offer nutritional value. Continued innovation and availability will be key to ensuring growth of the free-from sector.”