Recent media coverage has highlighted our latest cultural import from Australia - the FODMAP diet. But what exactly are FODMAPs?
Essentially, they are sugars that cannot be digested effectively in some people, causing the bloating and cramps associated with stomach disorders such as IBS. The science is clear cut - FODMAP avoidance is effective. So, cut out the FODMAPs, goodbye stomach cramps.
This sounds simple enough, but identifying where these molecules are found is challenging. High levels are found in onions, garlic, pears, wheat and apples, while low levels are found in oranges, carrots and tomatoes.
As with gluten-free diets, low-FODMAP cuts out wheat. Those with gluten sensitivity complicate matters somewhat - while they often think they should be avoiding gluten, increasing evidence is showing that it may be the FODMAPs in the wheat that are causing their issues.
A four to six-week period of complete FODMAP avoidance is to be followed by a reintroduction phase. This ‘test and learn’ makes low-FODMAP a lot more difficult to follow than gluten-free, though for those still suffering gastrointestinal problems despite going gluten-free, it is a small inconvenience.
So, how should existing free-from suppliers and retailers respond? First, the category needs to recognise there are different consumer needs within free-from and not just lump all shoppers together with one-size-fits-all products.
Over time, while the overall free-from category will grow, it will develop clearer and clearer customer segments and, in the long run, FODMAP could well be the largest single segment since it enhances the life of the largest number of people.
We will also see the launch of ‘pure-play’ FODMAP brands into the free-from category. Buyers are likely to look to Australia to source these brands, where there are existing FODMAP brands offering sauces, soups and stocks. Making things simple and improving symptoms is likely to prove very attractive to shoppers. The retailer that grasps this opportunity first will have a great head start and will reap the commercial benefit.
Hamish Renton is MD of HRA