On the go and convenience are next frontier for free-from

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

Free-from is growing rapidly but opportunities in convenience and on-the-go aren’t being utilised. Here, Kathryn Miller, Coeliac UK’s food policy lead, outlines why she thinks c-stores should increase their ranges…

One in 100 people has coeliac disease, caused by an intolerance to gluten and treated with a lifelong gluten-free diet. For people with coeliac disease, being able to access gluten-free alternatives to bread, pasta and flour is essential to maintain their gluten-free diet and health.

Coeliac UK, the national charity supporting people with the condition, has been working alongside manufacturers and retailers for many years and has seen huge increases in the market for gluten-free.

According to Mintel, the free-from market has doubled in value since 2009 to £365m in 2014 and the market is forecast to grow by a further 51% between 2014 and 2019 to reach £551m. Increased demand for products is coming not only from increasing awareness and improved diagnosis rates, but also from people choosing gluten free for lifestyle reasons.

Gluten-free provision has improved dramatically over the past 20 years, both in terms of quality of products and availability in store. Today, customers are faced with a variety of breads, biscuits, cakes and pastas in the free-from aisles of most of the major retailers, but ranges in smaller retailer and independent convenience stores are minimal at best.

Research has been carried out in London, which investigated the availability of a basket consisting of a range of staple and non-essential gluten-free foods across store categories. This showed limited availability of gluten-free foods. The supermarket category was found to have a reasonable level of availability (90% of basket available) compared with budget supermarkets (9%) and corner shops (9%) which stocked almost no gluten-free versions.

A recent survey conducted by Coeliac UK, investigating the shopping habits of people with coeliac disease, found that nearly 80% of those surveyed indicated they had to visit more than one store to complete their weekly shop and 14% needed to visit four or more stores, something that would not even be considered by someone without the burden of a restricted diet[3].

For people living in rural areas and those with limited mobility or access to a car, local availability is even more important. In addition, demand for access to gluten-free food from local and convenience stores is likely to increase with the growing trend for NHS provision of gluten-free food on prescription to be restricted.

Coeliac UK launched a new initiative last year asking retailers to make a pledge to stock a minimum basket of gluten-free items, to make a ‘Gluten-free Guarantee’. Asda was the first retailer to sign up to the guarantee and others are following suit. The key items that people are looking for are gluten-free breads, pasta, flour, crackers, breakfast cereals and cereal bars.

Picking up food ‘on the go’ can be tricky too, so stocking easy-to-cook ready meals, soups, salads or a gluten-free sandwich or wrap will be welcomed by people looking for gluten-free. We know there are challenges for smaller stores with limited shelf space, and are keen to work with retailers to develop a proposition that makes good provision for people with coeliac disease, at the same time being feasible for the convenience market.

For convenience stores, the Gluten-free Guarantee provides an opportunity to advertise the availability of gluten-free staples to a growing customer base currently shopping elsewhere. For more information, visit coeliac.org.uk/gfg or email gfg@coeliac.org.uk.

In association with:

Coeliac UK is the national charity for people with coeliac disease for whom the only treatment of their condition is a gluten-free diet for life. The Charity works to drive improvements for those with the condition and is working with the food sector to improve availability of gluten-free food. www.coeliac.org.uk

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