Health and wellness perception
It is not just consumers with food allergies or intolerances buying free-from foods. In general, foods bearing free-from claims are increasingly relevant to Americans, as they perceive the products as being closely tied to health.
Chicago-based Mintel showed that 84% of U.S. free-from consumers buy free-from foods because they are seeking 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, while another three in five believe the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is (59%).
Another reason why consumers without allergies or intolerances buy free-from foods is convenience. Households with one member on an avoidance diet often means the whole household changes its ways to make mealtime easier.
When it comes to general health and wellness, there are a number of free-from claims being made in regards to artificial ingredients, namely colors, flavors and sweeteners, as well as preservatives and G.M.O.s.
Mintel data showed elevated interest in the G.M.O.-free claim, which ranks among the top-four most important claims for many consumers. It ranked more important than soy-free and nut/peanut-free foods.
“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, 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.”
Overall, millennials (60%) and Generation X (55%) are more likely than baby boomers (46%) to agree that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy. Despite this, just 37% of consumers overall agree products with free-from claims are worth paying more for.
“Mintel research shows that Americans are interested in companies that look after the health of the consumer, as well as the environment,” Mr. Roberts said. “Overall, Mintel data indicates that consumers perceive foods with any free-from claim to be both healthier and less processed.”
The free-from trend in action
It is no wonder free-from foods dominated the 37th annual Natural Products Expo West held March 9-13 in Anaheim, Calif. The expo included more than 3,100 companies, with more than 500 first-time exhibitors, many making one or more free-from claims.
One such first timer was Carmit Candy Industries, Tel Aviv, Israel. The exporter debuted a vegan line of milk chocolate snacks that are also formulated to be wheat-free and gluten-free. The confections come in white chocolate and standard light brown milk-style chocolate.
“Most vegan chocolate is dark chocolate, but Carmit’s chocolatiers have developed a ‘milk’ chocolate without dairy or milk,” said Adrian Sagman, vice-president of international sales and marketing.
Endangered Species Chocolate, Indianapolis, speaks to the health-of-the-planet attribute with its new chocolate snack line. It is Fairtrade International certified, Non-GMO Project verified, vegan (select products), gluten-free and helps fund various wildlife protection programs. The company donates 10% of net profits annually to partnering conservation organizations.
Simple Mills, Chicago, introduced a line of grain-free, gluten-free cookies and crackers. Simple Mills Crunchy Cookies have 25% to 40% less sugar than other cookie brands and contain coconut sugar, coconut oil and a flour blend of almonds, coconuts and tigernuts, which does make them nut-free. With 40 calories per cookie, flavors include chocolate chip, cinnamon, double chocolate and toasted pecan.
Simple Mills Sprouted Seed Crackers contain a blend of sunflower, flax and chia seeds that have been sprouted for better nutrient absorption. The items have 3 grams of protein per serving. Flavors include original, everything, jalapeño, and garlic and herb.
The new PowerBar Plant Protein bars from Post Holdings Inc., St. Louis, are free of gluten, as well as artificial flavors and sweeteners. They rely on nuts (almond, cashew or peanut) as their source of protein, with each bar containing 10 to 11 grams.
Lactose-free does not necessarily have to be dairy-free. Dairies are either adding lactase enzyme to formulations to breakdown the lactose for ease of digestion or using filtration to completely remove the lactose from the milk.
New Direction Foods, Long Beach, Calif., debuted Revele Whipped Gelato at Expo West. It is described as having one-third fewer calories, fat and sugar, as compared to industrial ice cream, and has 40% solids.
Revele is made with lactose-free milk and milk protein concentrate, and contains no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.
San Diego-based Arctic Zero Fit Frozen Desserts is all about sweet treats that are low in calories and fat; free of lactose, gluten and G.M.O.s, as well as artificial flavors, sweeteners and colors. The dairy-based frozen desserts are made with whey proteins free from artificial growth hormones.
Dairy-free innovations were plentiful at Expo West. However, in some instances, to deliver on protein, nuts — another allergen — were often part of the formulation.
TruVibe Organics L.L.C., Sparks, Nev., introduced Eat Clean Organic Meal in a Bottle. A single-serve 12-oz bottle contains 15-plus grams of plant protein, essential fats and vegan probiotics. Made with cold-pressed nuts, fruits and vegetables, the products tout their balanced macronutrient profile that mimic a healthful balanced meal.
Munk Pack, Greenwich, Conn., showcased its new line of dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free and soy-free cookies. Each cookie contains 18 grams of plant-based protein obtained from nuts, grains and brown rice protein.
Nestle USA, Solon, Ohio, entered the plant-based refrigerated creamer category with Natural Bliss non-dairy creamers. There are two based on almonds — caramel and vanilla — and also a Sweet Crème Coconut Milk variant.
With so many varied free-from claims, the market will continue to grow with innovations that appeal to broad consumer segments as well as very specific niche groups. As long as avoidance remains a priority, these products have an audience.