- More allergen-free ingredients are showing up in food products as data reveal increasing demand, Food Business News reported. This demand comes from individuals with allergies, as well as their family members, friends and acquaintances, the publication noted.
- An estimated 15 million people in the U.S. — including about 5.9 million children — have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. In 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study showing food allergies among children increased about 50% between 1997 and 2011.
- Two of the most popular non-allergen goals are dairy-free and nut-free, Cam Suárez-Bitár, marketing and public relations manager for Pak Group North America, told Food Business News. Pak Group owns the Bellarise brand of dough conditioners, bakery solutions and yeast. "We are seeing demand for allergen-free bread rise everywhere from the bread aisle to elementary school hallways, and it is up to ingredient producers to create clean label and allergen-free solutions," he said.
Data on food allergies give more credence to using free-from ingredients in products. A study released last year in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that 4% of Americans suffer from some kind of food allergy. FAIR Health followed up with a study using insurance data that found the number of people who need emergency treatment for food allergies had increased 377% in the past decade.
As manufacturers invest more in R&D and technology to produce these ingredients, growth of the segment appears increasingly solid. Grocers are also showing more interest and are making room for allergen-free products on store shelves.
With the increase in demand, companies have used technology to discover the right ingredients. Suárez-Bitár told Food Business News that California-based Bellarise now offers products without any of the Food and Drug Administration's eight major allergens, except wheat. The company has been able to remove eggs and milk, for example, by using custom enzyme systems and flavor systems.
In Kansas, Inclusion Technologies is producing a nut-free product called Nadanuts that can add the flavor, eye appeal and the texture of pecans and walnuts to food items without the allergen, Food Business News reported. The company's plant is completely nut-free, but Nadanuts do contain wheat and dairy. Inclusion Technologies is also making other ingredients without any of FDA's eight major allergens — milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.
Allergen-free foods are no longer just niche products. Large manufacturers have also produced them this year, including Nestlé Toll House Simply Delicious Morsels, which only contain cocoa butter, cane sugar and chocolate. Mondelez-owned Enjoy Life Foods has gone above and beyond the FDA's allergen list and doesn't use 14 allergens in its products — wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, casein, soy, egg, sesame, sulfites, lupin, mustard, fish, shellfish and crustaceans.
While more people are reporting food allergies, growth for specifically allergy-friendly foods has been relatively flat, Katherine Allmandinger, manager of strategic insights for Nielsen's health and wellness practice, told Food Dive earlier this year. However, general health and wellness trends and the free-from movement make some products that happen to be allergy-friendly more lucrative. According to Mordor Intelligence, the global free-from food market is projected to have a compound annual growth rate of 4.84% through 2023, driven by interest in dairy-free and gluten-free segments.
Items that are attractive to health-conscious consumers also fit into the allergy-friendly portfolio without trying. Ripple, a dairy-free milk made from yellow peas, has the same amount of protein as cow's milk without the carbon footprint. It also is completely allergen-free.
Other products trying for a health halo end up being allergen-free. According to a report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications referenced by USA Today, 94% of the soybeans used in food are genetically modified — meaning producers trying to keep non-GMO may choose canola oils or emulsifiers derived from sunflower instead.
With so many products being allergen-free, is it wise for ingredients companies to spend their time coming up with replacements? The answer is still yes. If food allergies continue to proliferate — a likely possibility, especially considering that sesame may be added to the U.S. list of top food allergens — consumers want to know the food they eat is safe. And, allergies aside, they also are unlikely to be willing to say goodbye to some of their favorite treats — meaning nut substitutes or chocolate that tastes like it's emulsified with milk shouldn't be forced off the table.