Stocking free-from products in more than one location in the supermarket was already becoming more common as the market continued to expand, Stiletto Foods md Jeremy Woods told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“Increasingly, our Mrs Crimble’s products are stocked in the main fixtures as well as in the free-from aisles. In Waitrose, we’re in the main crackers and biscuits section as well as in the free-from section, for example. In Sainsbury’s, our macaroons are in the main cake fixture. We’ve never targeted just coeliacs.
“I’ve been fairly vocal about this. I want to be on the main fixture. Something like 20% of the population regularly buys into the free-from category. That’s a big business opportunity.”
New free-from products in fresh, frozen and chilled areas outside the ambient, long-life free-from fixture would also be key to bringing free-from into the mainstream, he said. “We’re starting to see this with fresh gluten-free bread from Mrs Crimble’s and Genius [produced by Finsbury Food Group], which are stocked in the main bread fixture.”
The Mrs Crimble’s brand was generating double-digit growth and had just scooped some new listings in Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco for cheese bites, crackers, muffins, stuffing mix and pancake mixes, said Woods.
“But I don’t see the growth as coming just from the supermarkets. We’re looking at alternative channels from single-serve products for cafes and restaurants to independent retailers and convenience store chains.”
Brands vs own-label
While some branded players in the sector had voiced concerns that smaller, innovative branded suppliers had been squeezed out of the free-from fixture as the supermarkets focused on own-label, Woods said he was confident the Mrs Crimble’s brand was strong enough to hold its own.
The growth of own-label was simply a reflection of the growing maturity of the category, he claimed. “When the supermarkets first got into free-from, they went out and sourced what was available from the specialist food stores, which was brands.
“As time moved on, and supermarkets could see the growth opportunity, they went down the own-label route and consolidated the supplier base to make it easier to manage, and inevitably, some of the brands have fallen out along the way.
"The ratio of own-label to brands in UK supermarkets according to Nielsen figures is now about 60:40.”
But the supermarkets still needed strong brands in free-from, he insisted. “Mrs Crimble’s has managed to maintain its presence in this market because it is a strong brand but also because we look beyond the free-from category.”
By the way: it’s gluten-free
He added: “We want people to buy our products because they taste good – not solely because they are gluten-free. It should be a case of, by the way they are gluten-free too.”
While Mrs Crimble’s products were sold at “a small premium” because there were extra costs associated with gluten-free production, it was “usually only around 10-15%, so it certainly isn’t prohibitive”, he claimed.
“And that’s the difference between now and a few years ago, where gluten-free products were two-three times more expensive and still tasted bloody awful.”