Special dietary needs push demand for free-from foods

Dive Brief:

  • Two out of three American consumers are being more mindful of the ingredients in their foods and beverages, new Nielsen research found.
  • Volume sales of free-from products continue to grow. These include products with claims like grain-free (9.5%), gluten-free (75.7%), nut-free (15.2%) and lactose-free or reduced lactose (4.8%).
  • Fewer than half of consumers with a food sensitivity or on a special diet said current product availability was sufficient for their dietary needs.

Dive Insight:

Allergens remain an important factor for manufacturers to consider when developing and reformulating products. More than one-third (36%) of Nielsen's global survey population said they or someone in their household deals with a food allergy or intolerance. Undeclared food allergens are one of the major reasons for FDA's Reportable Food Registry (RFR) reports and recalls. These recalls comprised almost half of the RFR reports from Sept. 8, 2013 to Sept. 7, 2014, the registry's fifth year of existence.

The free-from foods industry grew in coordination with this trend of increased prevalence of food allergies. But consumers also began eating free-from foods by choice, not just because their doctor told them to. Manufacturers have jumped on this trend through acquisitions, such as Mondelez's acquisition of Enjoy Life Foods last year, or through internal R&D.

Manufacturers also should consider regional dietary preferences, which may guide consumers to free-from foods in certain cases, Nielsen said. In North America, consumers tend to not consume foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium. In the Asia-Pacific region, consumers are more concerned with eating a vegetarian diet. The growing Hispanic population has already inspired manufacturers like General Mills to embrace Mexican foods, but exotic international flavors may be more in demand than ever.

Simple ingredients and minimal processing continue to be mainstays in today's consumer purchase decisions. Nielsen found that just above half of Americans try to avoid GMO ingredients, an important statistic for manufacturers to consider when gearing their products for mandatory GMO labeling

Half of consumers don't buy products with artificial colors. Organic ingredients are a focal point for almost half of U.S. consumers, while 60% actively position their food and beverage decisions on preventing negative health outcomes, like obesity or diabetes. This explains the surge of demand for organic products, which has now exceeded the country's current supply, the USDA reported in July.

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Filed Under: Manufacturing
Top image credit: PR Newswire