Free-From Aficionados Rejoice!

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March 14, 2016

by Amirah Ashouri


My ideal weekend begins at Starbucks with my friends – mine’s the tall coconut milk latte, thanks! After some time catching up, we head to the shops for a bit of retail therapy. In a few hours, it will be time for lunch. As Laura Smith mentioned her 'Crafty Millennials' blog a few weeks ago, we are the typical Millennials, it’s all about clean living during the week, but Saturdays are definitely cheat days. We find ourselves in Ed’s Diner - I order from the gluten free menu and tuck in, I don’t think my friends even realise mine’s different. Once we’ve finished shopping (I daren’t look at my bank account), I’ll head home and crack open a bottle of Eisberg alcohol free wine. It’s been a long day after all!

It’s so refreshing and exciting to talk about things I can eat and drink rather than things I can’t. Anyone with food intolerances or allergies knows the heartache experienced when being told you shouldn’t eat your favourite foods.

A few years ago, the landscape was bleak. Soy milk was, for want of a better word, really ‘beany’. Gluten free bread was anything but delicious and lactose free cheese was a mere fantasy.

But things are changing and they’re changing fast. New research from Mintel has highlighted that free-from is gaining a lot of traction in the UK with sales forecast to grow 13% and reach £531 million in 2016. With all the major retailers expanding their free-from sections, convenience has led to a far higher uptake, with 33% of consumers buying free-from food last year.

In the past, free-from was really only directed at those with true food allergies and choice was very limited. These consumers had to tolerate free-from rather than enjoy it. Now, however, the top cited reason for choosing free-from is that it makes consumers feel better or healthier. Food is more than just functional, it needs to fulfil much higher emotional needs.

Working on a wide range of product categories, I’m often asked my opinion of free-from and if it’s a fad. I know I may be biased but if you just take a quick look around, free-from is filtering its way into the mainstream. There are so many great products available that happen to be free-from – taking advantage of a wider repertoire of ingredients and really leading innovation.

Having a look at the shortlist for the Free-From Food Awards 2016, I wanted to highlight some of my favourite products and some I’m keen to try.

The White Rabbit Pizza Co.

Based not too far from our Wallingford office, The White Rabbit Pizza Co have a range of gluten free organic pizzas with the promise that gluten free can taste even better their gluten containing relatives. 

Chikas, A Taste of the Exotic

This brand takes consumers on a journey, taking inspiration from food of Africa. The plantain crisps are a personal favourite. 

Tesco 
This is a pretty exciting product for any one with little kids (or anyone just young at heart!). A favourite at birthday parties, Carl the Caterpillar is now available gluten free. The biggest shift I’ve noticed in the last couple of years is the notion that you can share your free-from products with friends and family, without having to compromise on quality or taste. Products like this are great because they no longer segregate those on a free-from diet, which can be especially hard for children.

To sum things up, my advice to anyone making free-from is that consumers don’t want to say, “tastes good for free-from.” They simply want to say it “tastes good.”

The sensory experience of the product is vital, since there is already some trepidation when trying a new free-from product. At MMR we’re really good at understanding the sensory cues that can delight to ensure consumers are truly excited by what they put in their mouth. 

I’m looking forward to finding out the big winners of the Free-From Awards 2016 (they’re announced in April). I’ll probably be tucking into a few, all in the interest of science, of course.

Amirah Ashouri is a Research Manager at MMR