In the past ten years, free-from foods have slowly become mainstream health-food products; once belonging to the realm of those with food allergies and intolerances, modern consumers are turning to free-from foods for an array of reasons. Not only are consumers becoming increasingly aware of their food, such as what it contains and the processes behind its manufacturing, but there are also wider concerns regarding animal welfare and environmental sustainability. The general population has also been experiencing rising levels of food intolerances and allergies, such as celiac disease, as well as more general digestive sensitivities. In combination with the increasingly health-conscious consumer, free-from foods have gained a reputation as being healthier alternatives to their animal-based counterparts, both for those with allergies and those without.
In Europe, the free-from food movement is made up predominantly of gluten-free and dairy-free products as large numbers of people reduce their consumption of dairy and gluten. Although the dairy-free market was once dominated by soya milk, other nut- and plant-based milks have become consumers' milk alternatives of choice. A greater array of dairy-free products has also paved the way for more consumer choice and greater acceptance, with extremely high interest in new products such as non-dairy ice cream. The gluten-free market is also increasingly accessible to the general consumer, with gluten-free per capita forecasts predicting a strong uptake in gluten-free purchases, particularly in the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom.
Free-from foods will likely continue to become more widely available and mainstream, albeit among a large consumer base without food allergies or intolerances. As more and more supermarkets launch their own free-from private labels and food companies reformulate or recreate their products to become free-from, the price differential may eventually decrease. Other differences between normal food products and free-from products may also become less noticeable over time, including the taste, choice and availability in different channels. What's more, far from being a 'fad', it appears free-from foods are here to stay.
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