Last year was when “free from” truly went mainstream and Innova Market Insights has identified “Free From, For All” as a key trend for 2016. This is particularly true in the US, where some new products do more to promote the ingredients they do not contain—rather than other positives.

Messaging aside, one visible US category leader is Enjoy Life Foods. The Chicago-area company (acquired last year by Mondelez) has been associated for its broad line of gluten free and “allergen-friendly” products. Last summer saw it extend that line to include functional, ready-to-use baking mixes and all-purpose flour. The baking mixes (Brownie, Pancake & Waffle, Muffin, Pizza Crust) feature a range of “free from” claims. They are free from gluten, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nut, fish, dairy, egg, shellfish, casein, sesame, sulfites and potato.

Similarly, the UK has seen Yumsh Snacks Ltd., Manchester, tout its “Free From+” crisps and popcorn under its Ten Acre brand. Ten Acre popcorns are marketed as “Free From+” and packaging says they are free from gluten, dairy and MSG. Meanwhile, they’re also vegan, halal and kosher.

One pronounced trend in the “free from” space is that consumers want to limit any perceived health risk. For example, there has been some negative media attention around the sourcing of genetically modified soy. That’s led to many other cow’s milk alternatives including almond milk. During the first half of 2015, Innova found that 21% of milk alternatives worldwide carried an explicit “soy free” claim. That was 14% more than similar introductions and claims during the first half of 2011.

Gluten Free Goes Mainstream

Gluten free has been the big platform in “free from” foods so far. However, the options are expanding and there’s a growing list of contenders for the next major trend push. They include dairy free or egg free.

The interesting issue with gluten free is how consumers with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity are no longer the only target group. Large numbers of consumers buy gluten free because it is “better for me” (US: 13%) or for weight management (US: 6%), according to HealthFocus data.

Although there is still virtually no evidence that gluten free is actually better for you, consumer perception is the manufacturer’s reality, and many have simply jumped on the bandwagon. Of course, there is a potential market for entire households. When one family member suffers from celiac disease, and other family members also will eat gluten free.

One bakery ingredient supplier recently surveyed 11,000 consumers in 25 countries. This supplier learned that consumers are being bombarded by all kinds of messages—about what is and is not good for them. The amount of information is confusing and leads to the creation of food myths.

For instance, 40% of Europeans, 42% of Asians and 45% of Americans believe that gluten can cause digestive problems for the majority of consumers. This figure is in strong contrast with scientific research that estimates the proportion of the population suffering from gluten related disorders to be in the 6-10% range (Brouns et al., Journal of Cereal Science, 58 (2013) 209-215).

There have always been gluten free options in the specialist aisle, but if we look at “gluten free” launches attributed to “big” companies in 2014, they accounted for an 11% share. This is up significantly from 7.6% in 2010.

The share of gluten free positioned products jumped from 5.2% to 9.4% of global food and beverage launches from 2010 to 2014. North America (19.7%) and Latin America (19.8%) dominated for products featuring a gluten free claim in 2014, with Australasia just behind (18.4%). It is important to note that the large number of Latin American launches also is influenced by Brazilian regulation governing allergen listings.

Active Gluten Free Categories

The most active gluten free product categories have been bakery and cereal products as well as snack foods. Understandably, this relates to rising demand for alternatives to the relatively high number of gluten-containing products in these sectors; and/or because of the availability of alternative gluten free ingredients. In fact, nowhere is the gluten free trend more visible than in the cereals category. With five times as many products tracked during the first half of 2015 (compared to the first half of 2011), the penetration increased from 7% to 23% worldwide.

The cereal products market, encompassing breakfast cereals and cereal bars, is relatively well set up to cater to the gluten free trend, with numerous non-gluten cereal options already available. As a result of this and the relatively concentrated nature of the market, it is perhaps not surprising that the share of gluten free launches in the cereals market is much higher than the average of the food and drinks market as a whole at 21%, rising to an incredible 43% in the US. But the interesting shift involves the proliferation of launches from major players.

Recently, as part of a $712 million capital investment, General Mills announced it is adding the “gluten free” label to five of its Cheerios varieties this summer, in addition to the marshmallow cereal Lucky Charms.

Interestingly, despite being one of the product categories most strongly associated with wheat and thus gluten, the bakery products sector has a slightly lower than average share of gluten free launches recorded, at 9%, perhaps partly reflecting the diversity of the sector and the high levels of new product activity overall.

The actual number of gluten free bakery launches has nonetheless risen consistently in recent years. On a global basis, biscuits account for the largest number of gluten free bakery launches, with over 40%, equivalent to 8% of total biscuit introductions, while bread has less than 16% of gluten free bakery launches, but this is equivalent to 9% of total bread introductions.

The gluten free bakery trend shows no signs of slowing down and some ingredients to watch will include: rice, corn, sorghum, buckwheat, millet, pea, oats, quinoa, amaranth and teff. An analysis of the penetration of new bakery products with a gluten free positioning found that 9.3% of global launches tracked in the second quarter of 2015 had a gluten free positioning. This is up from 4.5% in the first quarter of 2012.

In North America, where books such as “Wheat Belly” and “Grain Brain” have had a role to play in the recent gluten free hype, the penetration level of gluten free is even more significant [22.1% in Q2 2015], while in West Europe, it has grown from 5.4% in Q1 2012 to 10.5% in Q2 2015; an effective doubling in tracked gluten free launches.

The snacks market also is seeing a relatively high proportion of launches featuring gluten free claims, averaging 13% globally, but rising to over 42% in the US. In terms of product and market development, the snacks market benefits particularly from the fact that many basic snack ingredients—such as potatoes, corn, soy and nuts—are naturally gluten free. Ingredients used to replace wheat or other cereals and offer a gluten free formulation over the past few years have included lentils, black beans, navy beans, cassava, brown rice, nuts, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of other vegetables.

Many other areas of the food and drinks market also are seeing rising interest in gluten free reformulations, or just in emphasizing the gluten free nature of existing lines.

Ingredient Development

Gluten free bakery solutions were a key trend at IBA 2015 in Munich, where Bakels debuted its first consumer brand: a Gluten Free Multiseed Bread Mix. The new offering is targeted to celiacs, who like to bake, along with health conscious consumers looking to reduce gluten. The product is now available to through national wholesalers BAKO and BFP Wholesale. The company has launched a standard white bread, a gluten free version of multiseed and an artisan product, which works with ciabatta-style products and crusty breads.

Officials for another IBA exhibitor, a yeast supplier, said they also see renewed interest in a line of the company’s mixes and premixes (first launched in 2007) for gluten free breads, pizzas, cakes and pastries.

Meanwhile, another supplier used IBA to launch a chia ingredient. Officials say the South American seed has health-promoting properties, makes dough processing easier and presents great potential for bakers. It not only is used in refinement of bread and other bakery products, but can also be processed as a substitute for wheat flour or eggs and is therefore ideal for vegans and persons allergic to gluten.

Another supplier created a dedicated texturizing system for gluten-free baking applications. Officials say this highly functional system consists of three components that are perfectly balanced to help manufacturers optimize product texture. Labeled as “modified tapioca starch,” “maize starch” and “potato starch,” the mixture helps manufacturers create soft and resilient gluten free baked goods such as sandwich breads, buns, muffins and cakes.

“Over the last year the range of free from products on the market has risen dramatically,” said the supplier’s European marketing manager. “As many as 65% of consumers who adopt a gluten free diet do so because they think it’s healthier. In addition to this the number of diagnosed celiacs is steadily increasing. As consumer demand continues to rise, manufacturers and retailers are under increasing pressure to bring high quality differentiated gluten free products to market.”

Another innovation reportedly allows celiac sufferers consume foods containing gluten. One large global supplier says it has launched the first digestive enzyme that effectively breaks down residual gluten in the stomach. Targeted to the US dietary supplement market, this enzyme could be ideal is ideal for gluten sensitive consumers who want extra help digesting hidden or residual gluten in a broad range of foods.

Paleo=Cleaner Eating

It’s also interesting how the trend towards cleaner eating drives “free from” with a back-to-basics approach. The Paleo Diet, the market’s latest craze, is inspired by how our ancestors ate millions of years ago. More or less, their diet included what they could hunt or harvest. They consumed meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables and nuts. The Paleo diet holds to the same principle and excludes dairy and cereal products as well as processed foods.

“Paleo” has become a new gluten free platform in the US and Australia in particular, where diverse categories sometimes are positioned on a paleo platform—instead of being marketed as “gluten free.” In fact, a search for the word “paleo” found 265 new products featuring the word in the first 10 months of 2015, compared to 141 during all of 2014. Then again, there were only 21 paleo new product mentions in 2013. Worldwide, the US accounted for 68% of all launches tracked featuring the word “paleo,” well ahead of Australia, at 12%, and the UK, at 6%.

Several manufacturers used Fine Food Australia, held last September in Sydney, to showcase new paleo offerings. Riverina Fine Foods, Holbrook, NSW, showcased Maximum Protein, a protein jerky-style snack billed as a “steak in a bag.” The product carries a high protein content claim (64.4/ 100g), and is low carb, low fat, salt reduced, soy free, wheat free and gluten free. With special appeal for Paleo diet followers, Maximum Protein is available in three flavors: Original Paleo, Cracked Pepper Paleo and Mild Chilli Paleo.

Another show exhibitor promoting Paleo diet principles is Blue Dinosaur, Kings Langley, Australia. The company’s new Blue Dinosaur Paleo bars feature just five natural ingredients. The Original flavor tastes like a rich, dark chocolate brownie and contains walnuts, dates, pecans, raw organic cacao and organic coconut oil. Other flavor varieties include Ginger Nut, Cacao Mint, the Brazilian and Mac’ Lemon.

Dairy-free Platforms

Despite the dominance for gluten free, there are a number of other free-from platforms. These include milk free, lactose free, egg free and gelatin free. Innova believes the next big battle ground in the free-from arena will be lactose and dairy free. Lactose intolerance/sensitivity and dairy digestion concerns have resulted in the birth of the dairy/lactose free market, a fast growing niche.

An average annual growth of +15% has been reported for global product launches with a “dairy free” claim (2010-2014), while an average annual growth for global product launches with a “lactose free” claim (2010-2014) has been tracked at +29%. In the US, 7% of dairy launches in the US in 2014 had a “lactose free,” claim. This claim had a +27% average annual growth rate (2010-2014).

In the dairy category, lactose free jumped 1.5% during the first half of 2015 reaching 5.9%. Interestingly, the segment involves more than small players. Coca-Cola’s Fairlife is lactose-free. Valio also used the recent Anuga Show in Cologne, Germany, to launch a full range of lactose free alternatives—from powders to barista milk.

Lactose free claims also have been rising, if more steadily, in recent years. The claim features on 6.7% of global dairy introductions, rising to nearly 11% in the US and 8% in the EU. The category has grown in size and popularity for a number of reasons. These include growing interest in non-dairy alternatives, improved labeling, growing awareness of the problems associated with lactose intolerance and technical developments (resulting in better finished product taste). As a result, the sector is emerging from its specialist niche and increasing its appeal to a wider mass market.

The highest share of lactose free products tends to be in sectors where there already are established dairy alternatives. This is particularly true in drinks, where the share of products marketed as lactose free was more than 40%.

Many creamers also have non-dairy ingredients (such as vegetable fats) and can be formulated as lactose free. This type of product accounted for more than 10% of introductions in the “creams and creamers” sub-sector. In more traditional dairy markets, such as milk drinks, the penetration of lactose free launches was 5.5% worldwide, while in cheese it was just over 4% and in yogurts, 3.7%.

Other major manufacturers entering this space include from Germany’s Campina GmbH, whose Landliebe brand recently launched an extensive line of lactose free dairy products to meet growing demand. Many of the products feature strong “GMO-free” front-of-pack claims.

Denmark’s Arla Foods has introduced a complete line of Lactofree products include drinks, spreads, cheese, yogurt, cream and portion pak offerings. Arla says it a special patented filtration process that removes milk lactose without affecting flavor. Officials say the process also results in significantly less lactose (<0.03g/100ml) than conventional lactose free milk (<0.1g/100ml).

Other cow’s milk alternatives are on the rise. Goat’s milk is increasingly considered as a viable alternative. It contains less lactose and is therefore easier to digest for some consumers. Then there’s The a2 Milk Company, Boulder, Colo., which says its a2 branded milk only contains the A2 beta-casein protein. It is free from the A1 protein commonly found in regular milk.

Of course, dairy alternatives also continue to diversify with offering such as almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, quinoa milk etc. In fact, there has been a +17% US average annual growth reported in dairy alternatives (2010-2014).

“Free from” has entered the mainstream and for clever industry players, the opportunity offers a true free for all. Just how far things go before consumers become highly skeptical of the claims being made remains to be seen.


Originally appeared in the February, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Free From—For All.

Ten Trends to Watch        

The “clean eating” trend has inspired a back-to-basics approach in product development and is an overarching theme in Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends list for 2016.

New global products tracked with “organic” claim have risen from 6.3% in the first half of 2013 to 9.5% in the first half of 2015. A surge in “free from” launches and “flexitarian” options has also been reported.

“Clean and clear labeling and ‘free from’ foods have all gained traction and moved on to the next level during 2015,” reports Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “While other emerging trends for 2016 include the rise of the part-time vegetarian (‘flexitarian’) consumer, interest in a return to food processing the natural or old-fashioned way, the search for permissible indulgence and the re-establishment of links to ‘real’ food.”

Top Trends for 2016 are led by:

1. Organic Growth for Clear Label: “Clear label” established itself as a key trend in 2015, with greater transparency and the focus on simpler products with fewer artificial additives taking “clean label” to the next level. The biggest surge in NPD has been reported in organic products, indicating that this will be a key platform going forward in the short term, although the challenges involved may result in more beneficial platforms for clear label in the longer term.

2. Free From For All: Many consumers don’t actually need products that are free from gluten, wheat and dairy, but are demanding them anyway, as they believe them to be healthier. Industry has little choice but to respond and the recent surge in mainstream gluten free products has been incredible. Other “free from” platforms are also gathering pace.

3. The “Flexitarian” Effect: The rise of part-time vegetarians, who have reduced their meat consumption because of health, sustainability and animal welfare concerns, is having a major impact on new product activity. This includes the technological development and promotion of better-tasting products more reminiscent of meat, as well as the use of alternative protein sources and more animal-friendly processes.

4. Processing the Natural Way: Established food processing practices that have been around for centuries are in the spotlight. They bring with them a natural and authentic image to counteract some of the negative perceptions of heavily processed foods. The health benefits of fermented foods are seeing increasing awareness among western consumers. Newer technologies such as HPP also may succeed if they are seen as a fresh alternative to use preservatives.

5. Green Light for Vegetables: Consumers know that they need to eat more greens, but shy away because of taste expectations. Children can be encouraged to eat more through hidden vegetable products, while the rise of fusion smoothies and high vegetable pastas, indicates that adults can also be encouraged to increase their intake.

Other trends identified by Innova Market Insights are Creating a “Real” Link, Small Players, Big Ideas, Beyond the Athlete, The Indulgence Alibi and Tastes for New Experiences.

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