Foods with "free-from" labels are drawing health-conscious consumers.

CHICAGO — Foods bearing “free-from” claims are becoming increasingly important to Americans who perceive the products as more healthy when compared with foods without such claims, according to recent research from Mintel, a market research firm.

Mintel reported that 84% of consumers buy free-from foods because they desire more natural or less processed foods. Forty-three per cent of consumers agree that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim, and 59% believe products with fewer ingredients are healthier. 

“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans fat-free, no doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the U.S. and its related health consequences,” said Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Health issues appear to be top of mind among U.S. consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies.”

Seventy-eight per cent of consumers said foods with a trans fat-free label are most important to them.

Among the top claims free-from consumers deem most important are: 
• trans fat-free, 78%; 
• preservative-free, 71%, 
• G.M.O.-free, 58%, 
• sodium-free, 57%. 
Overall, millennials (60%) and Gen X (55%) are much more likely than baby boomers (46%) to agree that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy. However, only 37% of consumers overall agree that products with free-from claims are worth paying more for.

While 70% of Americans buy free-from foods for health and nutritional reasons, another driving factor for purchasing them is that consumers believe free-from foods are closely tied to the health of the planet. Cage-free and free-range claims are important to 43% of free-from consumers, with one quarter (23%) ranking it as one of their top three most important free-from claims. Mintel reports that 70% of Americans sometimes, often or always consider a company’s ethics when purchasing products. Fifty-six per cent have stopped buying a company’s products when they have perceived its actions as unethical.