Innovations in 'Free From' private label

Ten years ago, if you told someone you were coeliac, the usual response would have been a head cocked to the side, a bemused look and the question “You’re a what?”. Today however with up to 10% of the UK population following a gluten-free diet; which was traditionally only prescribed to those suffering from coeliac disease, the free-from industry is one of the fastest growing in the food retail industry and subsequently tapping into the mainstream market.  

In the UK retail sales of free-from products equated to £519m in 2016, with this sector predicted to grow even more over the coming year. And it’s not only in the UK that the free-from market is growing, in the US gluten free products alone now account for $8.8 billion and are following similar trends we are seeing in the UK in terms of branding and dominance in the private brand space.

Research has identified that there are shoppers who are interested in specialty store brand foods (be it organic, gluten free, non-GMO, dairy free etc.). This growing consumer interest in these specialty foods presents an area of opportunity for private label brands to set themselves apart in the market place by offering a broad and cross-category range of affordable and high-quality alternatives to the national brands, especially with the rise of free-from products now being marketed toward the public and sold in mainstream stores.

The private sector is holding up well against the national brands, equating to 46% of overall free-from sales in the UK. And the desire for more free-from options is not waning; opening more opportunities for private brands to tempt the modern shopper away from the specialty stores and into their aisles.

Being one of those who identifies as a free-from shopper, my top four tips for getting more shoppers like myself into the store would be:

  • More free-from varieties of traditional staples like bread or pasta – research has shown that more consumers are seeking these kinds of products.
  • A more favourable “value for money” proposition associated with private label goods, compared to the national brand equivalents, could be enough to entice your consumer to trial the free-from store brands, but may in the end lead to a permanent switch.
  • Including free-from options has made one-stop shopping available to a wider reach of consumers; stocking a larger variety of free-from products will help attract free-from consumers to shop in the main stream aisles of grocery stores, which will also help draw in customers who previously may not have.
  • Some retailers (such as Aldi) have begun to label everyday items as “naturally free from <gluten, dairy etc.>” or clearly featuring the “free from” label on product packaging, making it easier for consumers to identify the free from products.

There are a host of reasons for the success within the private label’s free-from ranges and the popular trends which will help this sector to continue to grow:

  • Limited consumer resistance to new and private brand labels – which is good news for the evolution of the category
  • Free-from can capitalize on healthy eating trends and lifestyle
  • Potential to grow if retailers can tap into the “healthy life style” mindset
  • The continued growth of a range of suppliers worldwide producing free-from products

Overall while the free-from sector’s growth is slowing in terms of the acceleration we’ve seen over the past few years – the growth predicted for the coming years is still impressive when compared to growth margins in other sectors; and with the definite changes in eating habits amongst consumers, this trend appears to be in it for the long haul.

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Tags: Product development, Food trends

Josie Burt

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