New research into UK shoppers’ attitudes towards free-from food and drink has revealed that younger consumers choose it as part of a healthy lifestyle choice, rather than because they have allergies or intolerances.
The study, conducted by research agency Future Thinking, questioned 2,000 Brits and found that almost half (43%) of 16 to 34-year olds consider free-from foods to be healthier options. By comparison, only a fifth (22%) of 55 to 64-year olds share this opinion.
When questioned on why they buy free-from products, perceived health benefits were cited as the greatest sales drivers. Notably, more than half (52%) feel wheat/gluten-free is better for digestion, while a quarter (24%) believe it offers better absorption of nutrients. Moreover, 36% suggested dairy-free foods are healthier alternatives, a fifth (21%) feel they are better for the skin than products containing dairy.
The free-from sector has grown exponentially, increasing 40% in 2017 (£230m) alone. However, Future Thinking’s research suggests there’s still a lot more the sector needs to do to maintain this level of success.
The research offers some points for consideration here: 36% of Brits believe the pricing of free-from alternatives needs to be brought into line with regular counterparts; a quarter (24%) are looking for a wider variety of choice and 22% feel manufacturers need to improve the taste so consumers don’t feel like they’re missing out when choosing free-from options.
Catherine Elms, senior research director at Future Thinking, said: “There are a huge number of brands operating in the free-from category already, with new entrants every month. This makes it a very noisy environment and we’re seeing conflicting information about how they contribute to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
“Consumer confusion damages growth prospects when all players should be building upon the health-halo around free-from foods. It’s all-important that the messages conveyed by brands are consistent and in-tune with the health benefits consumers are looking for if today’s Millennials are to factor free-from options in their weekly shop for the longer term.”