More than half of free-from buyers do not have any food allergies or intolerances, buying free-from options for “lifestyle” reasons only, a survey has found - suggesting the potential market for free from could be far larger than previously assumed.

YouGov’s survey of 1,039 adults found 55% of purchasers do not suffer from or live with anyone who ­suffers from an allergy or intolerance.

The fact that the free-from category attracts some lifestyle buyers is well established, but the YouGov survey suggests their numbers are greater than thought.

“There is a massive market out there buying for reasons other than allergies or intolerances,” said YouGov consulting director Louise Vacher. “They buy because they see free-from foods as generally healthier, ­better or just thought they would give them a try. It makes the market much larger than the small percentage of people who have intolerances.”

The report also found just over half (51%) of consumers are unaware free-from foods exist. “Older ­people in particular are less likely to be aware of them, whereas people diagnosed now are more aware of them,” said Vacher.

Only a third of those with food allergies had bought free-from overall, although this figure rose to 46% among those sensitive to gluten and 45% for those with lactose allergies and intolerances. The category with the greatest percentage of buyers was gluten-free (60%), followed by wheat-free (41%), dairy-free (40%) and lactose-free (28%).

More than two-thirds (69%) of free-from buyers are women.

Almost half (48%) of parents said there were not enough allergy or intolerance-specific products for children. Most respondents (80%) said they believed free-from products were too expensive.