Free-from is a lifestyle choice, say nearly one in three Brits

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This article is part of our digital feature on free-from.

One fifth of Brits regularly shop in the free-from section, yet only 13% have a medical condition that requires them to avoid gluten, wheat, dairy or lactose.

That’s according to an exclusive poll for The Grocer, which reveals that 35% of shoppers buy free-from for their general health, rather than specific ailments or intolerances. For 28% it’s simply a lifestyle choice.  

“This growing sector is not being driven by people with food intolerances and medical conditions, but instead the free-from sector is seen as a healthier lifestyle choice,” says Lucia Juliano, head of consumer & retail research at Harris Interactive, which polled 2,018 consumers for The Grocer.

There is plenty of scope for growth, she adds, but manufacturers have their work cut out if they are to capture the 58% of Brits who are receptive to the category. Price is a major sticking point, with 34% of Brits claiming they would shop free-from more frequently if the products were cheaper. This opinion was particularly prevalent among younger consumers, who are also far more likely to shop the fixture. 

“The sector still has much to do if it is to delight its customers with many shoppers complaining about the limited range, high prices, poor taste and a lack of premium products,” Juliano adds. “If manufacturers can get the offer right, it seems there is still great scope for growth.”

The placement of free-from products in-store is an area that divides the nation. Forty-five per cent of Brits would prefer to buy them from the general range while 29% enjoy the dedicated free-from section.

“It would appear that although there has been a huge surge within the free-from category over the last few years with rapidly increasingly sales and shelf space in free from, consumers are still unsure as to where they want their products,” says Holly Wales, brand manager at Udi’s. “As we see the market grow, we may well see a shift to more mainstream aisles but, to accommodate for the coeliac and lifestylers, dual placement is the optimum solution.”

Do you regularly buy any free-from food & drink, such as gluten, wheat, lactose, dairy-free products?
Why do you buy such products?       
For my general health35%36%33%35%40%33%42%25%
It’s a lifestyle choice28%30%26%36%29%26%32%20%
To feel less bloated24%23%25%20%27%25%25%20%
I’ve an intolerance21%20%23%14%15%23%26%31%
To lose weight17%15%18%15%20%17%19%13%
Because I’ve read so much positive stuff about going ‘free from’16%21%11%19%19%18%22%7%
To give me more energy/feel less lethargic15%16%14%18%25%11%13%5%
Because I prefer the taste of free-from to standard food & drink15%17%13%16%17%10%23%10%
I’ve a medical condition that requires me to13%14%13%14%11%10%13%19%
Because of celebrity endorsements7%11%2%9%12%8%4%-
What, if anything, would make you buy free-from products more often?   
Cheaper products34%33%35%40%43%43%34%24%
A greater choice of products26%27%25%29%33%29%25%19%
More premium products12%15%10%9%18%14%13%9%
Gluten-free bread & baked goods are disgusting, so a better taste!10%11%9%20%13%9%9%7%
Dairy-free milk, yoghurt & desserts are disgusting, so a better taste!10%10%9%16%12%10%9%6%
Lactose-free dairy products are disgusting, so a better taste!7%7%6%12%10%6%5%3%
In store, would you rather buy free-from products from a dedicated free-from section or as part of the wider range on offer?
General range45%48%42%42%53%50%46%39%
Dedicated free-from section29%26%32%25%30%25%27%33%
Don’t know26%26%26%33%17%24%27%29%
Following the recall of Genius gluten-free bread due to gluten contamination earlier this year, has your trust of this brand or the free-from sector been affected? 
No, I trust Genius and the sector as much as ever9%11%7%14%13%8%8%6%
I trust Genius less8%10%7%17%15%10%5%3%
I trust the wider sector less7%8%5%9%11%8%5%4%
I hadn’t heard of this68%63%73%49%56%65%71%81%
Don’t know9%9%8%13%7%10%11%6%
When it comes to ensuring a product is free from the substances it says it is (such as gluten, lactose, etc), who do you trust more?   
I trust them both equally51%47%55%38%47%52%58%53%
Own label7%8%7%17%9%8%3%5%
Don’t know22%22%22%15%13%20%23%30%

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