The company is also on a “mission” to extend its franchise overseas and is already looking at opening stores in the US, according to Emma Cockerill, Holland & Barrett director of sales and procurement. It already has franchises in Malta, Spain, China and UAE, among others.
The first ‘Holland & Barrett More’ store was launched in Chester last week and all the products fit the free-from category. A further 49 stores are planned over the next two years, as it aspires to become the largest free-from retailer in the UK.
Cockerill said the aim was to ensure that everyone had quick and easy access to a wide range of free-from food, such as gluten and dairy free. They will also support the allergy and intolerance community by ensuring access to the resources they need. This is in partnership with the charity Allergy UK.
She told Bakeryandsnacks.com: “As a retailer we should be the leader in this arena and considered as the expert. We want customers to come in for their weekly shop.”
The More stores will sell organic fresh fruit and veg, rivalling a typical supermarket shop. Demand comes from people with allergies or food intolerances but Cockerill said there is also demand from people seeking a healthier diet and lifestyle.
Recent changes in allergen labelling regulations has made it “far easier to navigate your way as a customer around a product”, according to Cockerill. But she added: “We need to work harder and work with our suppliers to make sure they are not putting unnecessary ‘may contain’ labelling on their products.”
Customers ordering on the retailer’s website will be able to filter out any ‘may contain’ products, as well as search and filter by allergen and food category for delivery.
More than 1,000 free-from products are listed with a total of 3,000 expected by 2016, both online and in store. From June ‘click and collect’ will also be introduced with collection points at all its 750 UK stores.
Sarah Sleet, chief executive of the charity Coeliac UK, said the new store reflected the growing maturity of the free-from sector.
“For people with coeliac disease, looking for gluten-free products, the two biggest concerns when shopping are being able to get their core staple products in one shop, which we are tackling with our Gluten-free Guarantee Campaign, and having a wide choice of foods to make their diet interesting and varied.
“Both things food retailing could do better on. We hope new ventures like Holland & Barrett More will meet these needs and spur others on to do better.”
Mintel valued the UK free-from category at £365m in 2014 and it is forecast to grow by 50% between 2014 and 2019.