A few years back, those of us who were dodging gluten, dairy contrary or soya avoider would have had a pitiful selection of brands to choose from. Consigned to a dusty shelf at the back of the supermarket were an obscure range of rice pastas, biscuits and cereals from the dark ages. Each blessed with a product that tasted about as good as the plain cardboard box it came in. For the thousands of coeliacs and food allergy sufferers there was little choice but to compromise.
The last decade has seen a free-from revolution. Whilst many food and drink categories have been going stale, the free-from section has risen exponentially, growing by a whopping 38.5% last year alone! The latest Kantar Worldpanel data suggests that free-from has officially entered the mainstream, with household penetration now at a whopping 78% in the UK.
What is driving this massive growth you might ask? Are food allergies on the rise; are they being better diagnosed or are we simply becoming a nation of health hypochondriacs? Our research with key shopper audiences has identified a growing trend to eat flexitarian, particularly amongst the under 40s. Generation Offset are affluent, time poor, health aware and look to balance a hedonistic weekend by eating much more healthily midweek.
Appealing to them is an explosion of innovative new ‘free from’ brands. Offering taste, style, convenience and indulgence aplenty, they are challenging the traditional free-from norms. These brands are no doubt attracted by the strong growth and price premiums available, with the average free-from product around 10% more expensive than a more conventional equivalent. From Genius bread to Heck sausages, Holy Moly avocado dips to Freaks of Nature desserts, we can now shop free-from across the supermarket without compromising on taste.
What heartens me is that the ‘free-from’ movement has really captured the British entrepreneurial spirit. At Brass we are seeing more and more innovative brand start-ups come to us for insight and shopper marketing support. It’s a chance to help them build an audience quickly and maximise new listings with the big grocery multiples. Quirky, crowd-source funded and with a strong desire to do something differently, they present an exciting opportunity for any marketer.
I think 2017 will be a wake-up call for some of the traditional FMCG players who have been slow to innovate. Seize the moment, join the free-from revolution or risk shrinking sales!