September 26/London/The Independent-- Food labels like gluten-free and dairy-free are experiencing "meteoric growth" in the U.K., with more consumers saying they have developed food intolerances or have made changes to their diet, reports a market research group.

At an industry seminar held in England entitled "FreeFrom Allergy & Intolerance," experts heard that retail sales are set to grow from £303 million a year to £519 million by 2016, as forecast by market research group Mintel, reported

In the same report, which has yet to be released, analysts said the term "dairy-free" -- popular among consumers who identify themselves as lactose-intolerant and vegans -- overtook the gluten-free sector in baked goods for the first time last year, attendees heard.

"Dairy-free is likely to continue to grow faster," said David Jago, research director for Mintel.

"Free-from" foods also include labels like wheat, gluten, nut, soy or egg-free.

Mintel's research also found that consumers with clinically diagnosed allergies made up a small part of the "free-from" market, Jago added, as more and more people report food intolerances or health-oriented lifestyle choices.

"One in 10 consumers say they will avoid certain foods to be on the safe side," Jago said at the seminar. "That indicates how mainstream it is going."

The U.K. is the European leader in "free-from" foods, with 23% of all new products in the bakery, pasta and breakfast cereal sector carrying such labels.

Meanwhile, the U.K. Food Standards Agency issued a dramatic warning in its September newsletter with a story entitled "Is your ice cream a killer?" advising customers to double check the nutritional information of products that claim to be dairy-free.

For example, while some frozen desserts may claim to be dairy-free, British law requires that a product claiming to be ice cream contain a minimum amount of milk protein -- the very substance that triggers allergic reactions, the story said.

From the September 26, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.