According to Allergy UK, it is estimated that up to 45% of people suffer from food intolerances while 2% suffer from food allergies. Muriel Simmons at the charity says: “We’ve seen an increase over the past three years. Up to 30% of those suffer from irritable bowel syndrome; half of those can be attributed to food intolerance.”
There has been rapid growth in the ‘free from’ sector at 165% since 2000 and it was forecast to more than double from 2002 and 2007, reaching £138m, according to a recent report by Mintel.
One of the latest products is a development from Arla Foods, which last month launched lactose-free dairy drink. The drink contains less than 0.05% lactose compared with a typical level of 3.5% for milk, thanks to a gentle filtration process. According to Arla Foods UK chief executive Tim Smith, the product tastes as good as ordinary milk, so lactose-intolerant people can get a real taste of the white stuff.
Matthews Foods, which produces Pure dairy-free spreads, says it is seeing an increase in sales as people switch from dairy to non-dairy. Marketing manager Dave Coulson says: “There are several consumers who buy our products - people suffering from food allergies and intolerances and people who prefer to avoid certain ingredients such as dairy. In this sector, brand loyalty is strong - consumers go to products they know.”
Jeremy Woods, MD at Stiletto Foods, which manufactures the Mrs Crimbles brand of cakes and biscuits, which are all wheat-free, as well as dairy and gluten-free, thinks the sector is being fuelled by media attention. “There’s been extensive media coverage about food allergies and TV programmes such as You Are What You Eat. The Mrs Crimbles brand is growing in value 35% year-on-year.” He feels there is tremendous potential for manufacturers and retailers to further grow the category. “‘Free from’ is becoming mainstream. It’s going the way of organic food - organics was in a special aisle - now it’s in the main area.”