The free from trend continues to grow at a rapid rate, and an ever-expanding range of products made up of formulations specifically designed to be free of common food allergens (gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts) show up on shelves.
However, building alongside this is an overall push for sustainability, which, said Loretta Kelly, director of Strategic Marketing for Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, has aided the growth of the free from movement.
“There is often an overlap with free-from friendly and sustainable ingredients, helping further expand consumer interest in both. Free from food and beverages offer a sense of safety and security, allowing consumers to enjoy a product without worrying about an allergic reaction,” Kelly told BakeryandSnacks, adding that while the free from market in North America is showing more growth, regions such as South Asia and Oceania are becoming increasingly drawn to the benefits of free from products, breaking ground for a large market potential.
In its report Allergen-Free Foods: an Opportunity for the Food Industry, the Food Institute revealed that 1 in 4 Americans avoids buying a product that contains one of the nine major food allergens as a result of an allergy. Additionally, 71% of global consumers check food labels every time they shop.
“With a large portion of the consumer base avoiding certain ingredients, food and beverage producers must meet a rapidly increasing need for allergen-free offerings. That’s where the free from trend comes into play,” said Kelly.
To meet the demand driven by allergen-cautious consumers, formulators must reinvent their offerings by swapping out allergen triggers with ingredients that do not typically cause negative reactions. For example, almond flour instead of wheat flour, chia seeds in place of eggs, nut milks to replace cow’s milk.
“By making these swaps, producers are able to expand into an inclusive, allergen-friendly category of the food and beverage industry.”
Stemming from the idea of better-for-you – which focuses on personal health – interest in better-for-us has increased, bringing the health of the environment into the loop.
According to the 2020 EAT-Lancet commission, a global shift toward more plant-based foods would help feed the world’s growing population with a nutritious and sustainable diet. Kerry’s 2021 dive into the four trends shaping sustainable foodservice also shows that 73% of consumers associate health and nutrition with sustainability, which provides producers with a large consumer base.
“Formulators can tap into both sustainability and free-from trends by focusing on the healthy and environmentally-friendly perception to help grow consumer interest,” said Kelly.
“Sustainable ingredients, such as almonds, allow formulators to not only join the free from trend as a result of the plant-based and gluten-free qualities of almonds, but the environmentally-friendly characteristics as well.
“When grown with sustainable practices, almond orchards have been found to achieve carbon neutrality. The sustainable attributes and free-from qualities of almonds attract consumers who are health and environmentally-conscious.
Producing wholesome products
Whether formulating to provide an allergen-free or better-for-us alternative, free from is something that all should increasingly adopt.
Plant-based ingredients allow formulators to innovate freely without much worry for allergens, health or environmental concerns and ingredients like almonds are a common go-to, enjoyed by a variety of consumers.
Unlike other free from flours, bakers face fewer processing challenges with almond flour, which provides a smooth mouthfeel and neutral taste, without the need for artificial additives.
“All almond-based ingredients – including protein powder, flour, inclusions and butter – are excellent plant-based, free-from and sustainable solutions for alternative formulations that don’t sacrifice taste or texture,” said Kelly.