As growth in the free from sector continues, sales of sliced loaves are down as the wider population samples gluten free – and a host of other free from products.

While free from food is designed to offer more choice to those who have food allergies and intolerances – in particular to ingredients like gluten, dairy and nuts – many shoppers are choosing to consume free from food for its perceived health benefits and “natural” profile.

According to Kantar Worldpanel, more than half (54%) of UK consumers purchased a free from item in the first three months of 2017, an increase of 3.3 million people compared with its survey from the year before.

Young people, affluent shoppers and Londoners are said to be leading the trend, although with consumption this high, the wider population is clearly on board. Indeed, free from products have not been the preserve of health food shops for some time, and are now available across all the major multiples and discounters.

The popularity of gluten free – including for many who are not coeliacs or wheat intolerant – has also affected the sale of standard sliced loaves, compounded by a wider range of choice in lunchtime alternatives, such as salad pots, the vogue for reducing carb intake and increased bread prices.

FreeFrom Food Awards 2018

Now in their 11th year, the FreeFrom Food Awards announce their shortlist in February and winners on 17 April at the annual FreeFrom Food Awards networking event.

There are a total of 23 awards, ranging from product awards such as Breakfast Foods or Desserts and Puddings to awards for innovation, export and retailing. There is even an award for Foods Designed for Children, which is judged with the help of a panel of 6-16 year olds.

The awards are described as celebrating: “the innovation and imagination shown by the food industry in creating foods that are free of wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, soya, sulphites and other allergens”.

Having recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, the organisation behind the awards recognises how much the free from market has grown over that period on its website ( “Ten years ago – a tiny cottage industry; today – a multi-millionpound business!”

Multiple allergies

In addition to products that are free from one particular ingredient, such as gluten or nuts, there are an increasing number of products coming to market that are suitable for people with multiple allergies.

D&D Chocolates (, for example, are now soya free, as well as dairy and gluten free – all made in a nut-free unit. Whereas in the past those with allergies and intolerances would have struggled to find a great selection of dairy-free chocolates for Christmas, there is now a much wider choice, covering everything from Advent calendars to Chocolate Minty Snowmen.

Not just free from

In some cases, companies operating in the free from sector also champion other specialist food production, such as organic. Award-winning, family-run business Doves Farm ( began producing organic and heritage flours in the late 1970s, as well as being an early pioneer of naturally gluten-free flours, reintroducing lost ancient grains back to the UK.

The specialist flour producer supplies a range of free from products under its FREEE by Doves Farm brand, and owns 80% of the UK’s free from flour market. Most recently it has launched to new gluten-free baking mixes for retail: FREEE by Doves Farm Sponge Mix and FREEE by Doves Farm Seeded Bread Mix. Both are free from gluten, peanuts and milk, and the Seeded Bread Mix is also egg free and vegan friendly.

This foray into gluten-free convenience products shows just how mainstream free from products have become: the bread mixes follow earlier launches of free from mixes for white bread and pizza base – and its product suite of around 60 gluten free and free from items also include pasta, breakfast cereals, biscuits and oat bars.

Widely available

As mentioned earlier, free from foods are now firmly established in the mainstream, with many sales today through the major multiples.

The UK’s leading gluten-free pastry, Too Good To Be Gluten Free (, recently secured a new listing in Waitrose for some of its desserts, with Too Good’s Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart, Bramley Apple and Blackberry Tart and Tart Au Citron now available in 187 Waitrose stores.

“Waitrose already stock some of our best sellers from our gluten-free sausage roll to our award-winning gluten-free pork pie and they’ve also played a key role in launching our gluten free snack packs,” explains Sam Benjamin, Brand and Marketing Manager at Too Good To Be Gluten Free. “We are really pleased they’ve chosen to start listing our desserts, which add some real depth to the Too Good offer at Waitrose.”

The desserts are made with high-quality ingredients that Sam Benjamin says makes them indistinguishable from gluten alternatives, and the brand also sells through a number of other outlets, including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-op.

Looking outward The demand for free-from products in the UK has led to a great deal of innovation and many new product launches from manufacturers in this country. However, the market for these products is, of course, potentially a global one. In 2016, the value of exports of the food and drink sector passed £20bn for the first time, yet only one in five UK manufacturers in the sector currently export. With global sales of gluten-free increasing by 12.6% in 2016 to $35bn (£26.2bn), there are clearly opportunities out there.

Last November, the Department of International Trade (DIT) and the financial services provider Santander UK organised a four-day trade mission to Spain for 14 UK organic and gluten-free food manufacturers. The idea was to network with distributors and buyers, and find out the potential for signing trade deals. The trip coincided with a leading organics products trade fair in Madrid, Biocultura 2017.

“The UK’s food and drink sector is a global success story and the industry is ahead of the curve in terms of the healthy food market and, in particular, gluten-free,” says Alicia Ferrero Vega, International – Santander Corporate & Commercial Banking. “Santander is dedicated to helping UK businesses trade and export overseas and our trade missions are a powerful, high-profile and increasingly popular means to directly connect firms with distributors, buyers and other key stakeholders.”

With both the home and the export market offering a raft of opportunities for manufacturers and suppliers of free-from products, and continuing interest from consumers, this looks like a category that will continue to grow and thrive in 2018.

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