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January 06, 2020 | Food & Beverages
Free-from foods trend is rapidly gaining importance across the globe with the growing population suffering from allergies, sensitivities, and diseases as well as changing lifestyles and demands for healthy foods. Free-from foods are foods that have specific ingredients removed to make them consumable for people with specific allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances or diseases. These foods notably involve gluten-free, lactose-free, GMO-free, and foods free from animal products (vegan).
The demand for these food products has been steadily increasing for the past few years owing to changing buying pattern of the millennial generation. Earlier, the primary reason behind buying free-from foods was medical conditions associated with it such as gluten allergy or lactose intolerance. However, in recent times, consumers are inclined towards buying free-from food products because they are perceived to be a healthier alternative to regular/conventional products.
Types of Free-from Foods: Large Number of Variants
The global market of free-from foods includes a wide variety of foods such as gluten-free, lactose-free or dairy-free, GMO-free, animal-free/vegan, preservatives-free, no artificial colours, trans-free, sodium-free, palm-oil-free, allergen-free, and others.
The growth of the “free-from” market is notably driven by gluten-free, lactose-free or dairy-free, GMO-free, and animal-free or vegan foods.
Gluten-Free Foods: Gluten-related Disorders Driving the Demand
The most known and famous free-from foods are gluten-free foods. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and products of these grains such as biscuits, bread, pasta, cakes, and others. Consumption of gluten can cause disorders such as coeliac disease, gluten intolerance, and allergy in people of variable age groups. Coeliac is an autoimmune disease which has been reported to affect around 1% of the global population. In this disease, ingestion of gluten causes inflammation of small intestine which diminishes the absorption of nutrients from foods. Consumption of gluten-containing foods can cause gastrointestinal disorders such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea in gluten intolerant people. Gluten allergy is an immune response of a body on consumption of gluten-containing foods. Allergy symptoms are similar to both coeliac disease and intolerance.
Gluten-free foods industry is driven by increasing population suffering from such gluten-related disorders. Apart from this, the demand for gluten-free foods is increasing as a result of changing buying patterns due to lifestyle changes in recent years. Gluten-free foods are also perceived to be healthier than that of regular gluten-containing foods by millennial generation. People are choosing gluten-free alternatives for weight management and digestive health.
Figure: U.S. Per Capita Wheat Flour and Potato Use
Source: United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
Above graph shows the decline of per capita wheat consumption over the past few years. According to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, per capita consumption of wheat has fallen from 148 pounds in 1997 to 133 pounds in 2015. This decline in wheat food consumption is a result of increasing demand for gluten-free foods or multi-grain products due to changing diet trends and the increasing population with gluten-related disorders.
According to USDA, there has been significant growth in the percentage of new product launches in the free-from category of foods in recent years. This reflects the change in the buying pattern of consumers.
Free-from Food Product Launches
Low/No/Reduced Allergen (%)
Gluten Free (%)
No Additives/ Preservatives (%)
GMO Free (%)
Source: United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
Lactose-free/ Dairy-free: Lactose Intolerance is Fuelling the Demand
Lactose is a type of natural sugar found in dairy products such as milk. Lactose intolerance is caused due to inadequate or no formation of lactase enzyme in the body required for digestion of lactose absorbed from food. People who suffer from lactose intolerance need to consume lactose-free foods and milk. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) estimates, 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Common foods containing lactose are milk and milk products including cheese, yoghurt and butter.
Milk and all products of milk are rich in nutrients and provide nutrition to the body. The dairy industry is making technological advancements to keep up with the progress of the lactose/dairy-free industry. Lactase is added to milk and milk products to make them lactose-free. Dairy alternatives such as soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk and rice milk and their products are being launched by major key companies to keep up with new trends and competition.
Below graph shows Europe Dairy Alternative Consumption survey data published by Cargill, Incorporated in 2018. The graph shows that the number of consumers consuming both real dairy and dairy alternatives is highest. This determines that the consumers are buying dairy alternatives more as a healthier option rather than for lactose intolerance and other dairy-related disorders.
Figure: Europe Dairy Alternative Consumption survey
Animal-free/Vegan: Rising Trend for Plant-Based Products
A vegan diet is based on excluding all animal origin products including cow milk. It promotes the use of all plant-based products and animal-free alternatives. The global vegan food market is growing rapidly due to increasing concerns about animals and awareness about animal cruelty among consumers. The increase in awareness about health benefits of plant-based foods and vegan popularity among celebrities is driving the growth of the global vegan food market. The trend of using plant-based and excluding animal-origin products is increasing in other markets, for instance, excluding animal hair and skin and using plant-based products like recycled plant waste and fungus textiles.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Germany has been observed to be a rapidly growing market for vegan products. In 2015, the vegan market value of Germany stood at USD 520 Million and exhibited a growth rate of 17%. In 2016, Germany and the US witnessed 18% and 17% of worldwide vegan food product launches respectively. This shows that the market is expected to rise substantially in the market.
GMO-free (Genetically Modified Organisms free) Products:
Genetically modified foods are foods in which genetic material of a product is altered to insert a specific quality in plant or animal. The resulted product differs from its natural form. All characteristics of an organism are imparted by its genetic material and altering genetic material changes the natural form of that organism. Genetically, modified foods contain genetically modified organisms. GM foods can lose their certain nutritional value, they can be toxic and cause allergies. Certain examples of GM products are crops such as corn, soy and their derivatives such as starch sugars, sugar syrups, and sugar alcohols.
The market of non-GMO foods is growing significantly due to increasing awareness of the disadvantages of GM foods among consumers. Key companies of the market are launching non-GMO products to keep up with changing scenario of buying patterns in the past few years. Initiatives taken by major companies to market non-GMO foods is playing a significant role in the growth of the market.
Major players in the industry of free-from foods are Conagra Brands, Inc., The Archer Daniels Midland Company, The Kraft Heinz Company, Danone, General Mills, Inc., Chr. Hansen, Mondelēz International, Inc., FMC Corporation, Del Monte Foods, Inc., and others. Companies in the industry are investing in R&D activities to launch innovative products to meet the requirements of specific group of consumers across the world.
Few Developments in the Free-from Foods Category (2018 – 2019):