Special edition: 'The rise of free from'

The demand for products with dual or multiple free-from labeling is growing

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: ©GettyImages/Neuvector
Pic: ©GettyImages/Neuvector

Related tags: free from, Snacks, Bakery, allergens, Manufacturing

The rise of free from is throwing up unique challenges for manufacturers in that, often products that replace allergens can have an allergen classification themselves, like nuts to provide protein and fat content; or eggs or milk to bind ingredients in gluten free. We spoke to Verity Clifton, applications technologist at specialist ingredients company Thew Arnott, to find out more.

BakeryandSnacks (BAS): What is driving the free-from trend?

Verity Clifton (VC): There are two lines driving the free-from trend: better understanding of the symptoms of food intolerance and allergies, along with better understanding by the consumer of what is in their food, and the ‘health halo’ effect, where people view free-from as being overall healthier than standard off the shelf food.

BAS: Will it have legs?

VC: There will always be a need for diets that are low or free-from specific elements in food for those with diagnosed food intolerances/allergies.

With the understanding of food intolerances and allergies increasing – and the effect that a diet free from food intolerance/allergy triggers can have on the individual’s daily life – demand will be on the rise. This is especially evident in ‘lifestyle consumers’; if they see or perceive a health benefit from consuming a free-from food product, they are likely to continue buying these food items.

As consumer understanding increases, and the desire to have greater traceability of the food being consumed increases, it is likely that more front of pack claims appear.

Along with the “health halo” effect, in the traditional sense, there is also the idea that companies who make claims such as free from would likely need to prove their claims. Therefore, the level of traceability of the product as a whole and its components, is deemed to be higher than a standard product. This is a desirable trait to food, as consumers push to know more, and as testing techniques increase in sophistication​.

BAS: Which businesses are already tapping into the demand?

VC: Throughout the free from drive over recent years, we are seeing new and small start-up companies on the rise, usually started due to a member of the family (or the founder) having a specific health requirement.

Larger branded companies are now finding a demand for free from products (typically in the gluten free bakery sector). An example would be the new range of free-from Mr Kipling products or the gluten-free range from Old El Paso, which are based on their standard product ranges.

We are also seeing companies expanding from one free-from sector into other free-from options – and, in some instances, having multiple free-from labels. Alpro, for example, originally a solely soya-based product, has expanded into coconut, almond and oat.

As we see the trend rise, we also see products that have always been free-from being labeled as such, for example, gluten free claims on sweets or curry sauce. This is now being challenged by some consumers, claiming that it is confusing, questioning whether the products were previously gluten free. 

BAS: What gluten-free snacks are making waves?

VC: We are seeing more seed and nut snacks replacing products such as flapjack – for example, the 9Bar Super Seeds range and Paleo Foods Granola range. Also, an alternative to chips and crackers, such as pea, vegetable, and bean-based snacks like as Eat Real hummus chips, Aldi pea snacks and inSpiral Crackits range allow for free from claims.

We are also seeing more ‘unusual’ snacks and products from other cultures being consumed by the UK market with items based on seaweed such as Clearsprings and Ocean’s Halo; flavored insects like Jimni’s; and quinoa and other ‘ancient grain’ products becoming available from European and US manufacturers. 

BAS: What issues are there in the manufacture of these products?

VC: The demand for products with dual or multiple free-from labeling is growing. This is increasing the challenges faced by manufacturers, as often products that replace allergens can have an allergen classification themselves – that is, dairy-free products usually contain soya; nuts to provide protein and fat content; egg free often requires milk protein to replace structure; and gluten free may need egg or milk to bind ingredients.

As the demand for clean-label increases generally, and with the largest portion of free-from consumers being lifestylers, we are seeing the demand for free-from products to have fewer or no hydrocolloids with e-number classifications.

This is obviously the more difficult of the potential issues, as texture demands in these products is high and increasing. Texturants and stabilisers are often required to replace the proteins lost in allergen free products, or fat is used to replace body and mouthfeel. 

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