The rise of free from
Free from consumption is now centred around choice
According to Sameer Vaswani, founder and CEO of plant-based Prodigy Snacks, we all want what we want and when we want it.
“Each person is different and our biology is different; thus our food & drink needs are different based on our allergies, food intolerances, or even just levels of carbohydrate/protein/fat and sugar intake,” he told BakeryandSnacks.
“We also now have much better nutritional science to help us keep more educated and informed, and this has a huge influence on our choices in food & drink.
“I don’t see this trend having an expiry date, but rather growing more and more and the consumer audience growing more fragmented in their needs.”
Vaswani said there are an increasing number of producers that are tapping this demand.
“Rude Health is famous for its plant based milks, but also have a range of free from cereals and tortilla style chips. Boundless Activated Snacks is another young brand taking this to another level and homing in on hut health. Native Snacks is another such brand for savoury snacks. For bakery, there is Nairn’s, which focuses on the huge gluten free trend, but still use refined sugars, palm oils and so forth,” he noted.
“Prodigy Snacks is a new chocolate snacking brand, creating all the old classic favourites (in chocolate and biscuits) but without any of the nasties – no refined sugar, no palm oil, no soy, no gluten, no artificial sweeteners, and no plastic packaging.”
When it comes to alternative ingredients, Vaswani said he could write a book on this, listing, among others, gluten-free oat or buckwheat flour in place of wheat flour; coconut sugar, agave syrup and honey, along with the more obscure ingredients like inulin (chicory root fibre), lucuma and yakon.
“Some of these ingredients are more expensive, but infinitely better for our bodies. Likewise on fats – coconut oil, rapeseed oil, olive oil or even cacao butter or shea butter are much better fats with good nutritional values versus the controversial palm oil or hydrogenated vegetable fats, which have little nutritional value and have negative environmental impact. All of these ingredients are fairly widely available from various suppliers,” said Vaswani.
Delving into production, Vaswani said the challenges are more manageable if a brand has its own production facility.
“Most of these ingredients behave in similar ways to the traditional ingredients, but of course, with minor tweaks and adjustments to the production process.
“Allergen management is tricky and must be precise and follow the right procedures to the tee – but that is what the Health & Food Safety certification frameworks are there for.
“However, if a brand relies on subcontractors or private label producers, then it is hugely challenging to convince those manufacturers to change ingredients,” added Vaswani, noting that making foods affordable relies on production efficiencies that are often fixed and offer little or no deviation.
“If you ask a factory to suddenly introduce a new non-wheat flour or a dairy replacer, their processes need to be adjusted which will affect their efficiencies.
“This is also a huge issue on the allergen front. Cross contamination is a very precise science and all traces of allergens need to be eradicated – time consuming clean downs and microbial testing – before a peanut or dairy free recipe, for instance, can be run on a production line.
“Again, factories are loathed to do these things as it costs time and energy. SME factories are more agile and more receptive to these free from recipes, but they also have their limitations,” added Vaswani.
Keep customers coming back
Bryan Martins, marketing & category director at Ecotone UK, brand owner of Mrs Crimble’s concurred the free from trend is expected to last.
“Products that fit both gluten-free and plant-based requirements are driving [most] trends, as witnessed in ongoing booming sales both during and after the pandemic,” he said.
“Consumers are increasingly looking at ways to boost their health, which is why it’s so vital to provide great taste and a strong brand identity in this category.”
He added Mrs Crimble’s is tapping into demand for free from snacks and bakery products by cementing its vibrant and joyous identity.
“We continue to offer value for money and quality, meaning our customers keep coming back.
“We launched our vegan range in order to make gluten-free accessible to our vegan customers, and pride ourselves on delivering delicious gluten-free cakes and bakes for all to enjoy.”