The free-from category is booming. This year has seen yet another hefty sales rise, as shoppers have stocked up for dietary, lifestyle or even panic-buying reasons. An extra £667m worth of free-from food and drink went through the tills in the 12 weeks to 14 July 2020, according to Kantar data.
But, until now, those products have always come at a price. Free-from food and drink has always been notoriously expensive due to the extra costs associated with sourcing ingredients to replace allergens, plus the extra checks needed to avoid cross-contamination.
So Asda’s move to slash prices across a host of free-from essentials is a bold one. It will almost certainly mean Asda takes a big hit to margins as it makes cuts of up to 78% on products such as pasta, flour, milk alternatives, cereals and breads.
No doubt it’s hoping that move will pay off by encouraging loyalty among free-from shoppers, and tempting a flurry of new customers into the category.
It should certainly deliver on the first of those aims. Senior buying manager Rebecca Long is likely to strike a chord with the free-from community when she says “there should be no reason for our customers to pay more for food if they have an intolerance”. Until now, only gluten-free foods have been available on prescription – and the government has scaled this back – so paying a premium has been inevitable. Asda’s prices instead look to match the free-from product “gram for gram” with their standard equivalent.
Tempting new shoppers into the aisle might be a harder sell, however. Price is rarely a motivating factor for lifestylers – they are driven by issues such as ethics or health, and taste is arguably more important than the price tag. Still, as the dairy-free market gets an ongoing boost from the vegan movement, Asda’s move is sensible on this front, too.
The ball is now in the court of the other retailers. As Asda boasts prices such as 33p for a 1kg bag of own-label gluten-free flour, they are suddenly going to ask why Tesco only offers a branded version for £1.70 (that’s the only product available online, at least). Shoppers will be asking why, if they’re not paying a premium at Asda, they should be doing so elsewhere. Your move, Tesco.