Half of all food shoppers now buy “free from” food

Should you voluntarily follow a 'free-from' diet?UK shoppers have caused a surge in sales of  “free from” foods, as analysis shows half of of us now purchase items without gluten, wheat or lactose.

Despite just one per cent of the UK population are diagnosed with coeliac disease, a condition requiring sufferers to avoid all gluten, the market for “free from” foods has increased 200% over the past five years as increasing numbers cut out foods from their diet as part of a lifestyle choice.

Marks & Spencer are one retailer that have cashed in on the boom with its gluten-free product sales rising by than 100 per cent  in the last year. They continue to expand their product range and last week addded pizza bases, pancakes and even  gluten-free beers.

Data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that  55.2 per cent – are now buying “free from” products. The market has doubled in value to at £355 million. It is as The Grocer magazine describes “one of grocery’s great success stories”.

“Free from’s march on the British mainstream has been lent a huge helping hand by high-profile endorsements from celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Jessica Alba and Miley Cyrus,” it said.

“It is clear lifestyle choice plays a big part in the sector’s success. Far more consumers buy into free from than have been diagnosed with a food-related condition.

“For example, just one per cent of the UK population has been diagnosed with coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition that requires sufferers to avoid all gluten – and an estimated 15 per cent are intolerant to lactose. ”

David Jago, director innovation and insight at Mintel, said increasing availability and choice had contibuted to the rise in popularity of the range.

“The fashion factor helped to get it off the ground but it’s got beyond that now,” he said.

“There are a lot more products out there and they are a lot better quality than they used to be. And there’s much better presence and visibility in-store. It’s no longer a ghetto ”