Since free-from foods are already well established in supermarkets, the next obvious market was foodservice, suggested Alex Smith, Alara wholefoods founder, at a sustainable foods event last month.
Foodservice was a “high-growth area” for free-from foods and would expand dramatically in the coming years, said a spokesman for Organic Monitor, which staged the event.
“A growing number of restaurants and foodservice establishments are expected to develop gluten-free and lactose-free lines and promote them as such to customers,” he said. He added that food manufacturers supplying the foodservice sector could tap into this trend.
“For instance, it’s easier for a restaurant chain to buy gluten-free buns, rather than make them in-house,” said the spokesman. It is an approach already used by high street coffee chain Starbucks.
The free-from market was no longer a niche sector because of increasing food sensitivity and as the bigger players moved into this market, claimed Michelle BerriedaleJohnson, founder of the FreeFrom Awards.
But as the sector grew, concern was rising over how free-from labels were perceived by consumers. Shoppers are increasingly confused, new market data from MMR Research suggests.
MMR’s survey also showed that more than 70% of consumers did not know what ‘clean-label’ meant, with just 5% claiming they did. MMR advised food businesses to use shorter labels on packs.
“Clean-labels confuse customers as free-from terms become ubiquitous,” said the spokesman for Organic Monitor. Many consumers were not clear about what products contained dairy, wheat or gluten, he added.
“They [consumers] may purchase food products that may host free-from logos, not aware that they generally do not contain such ingredients,” said the spokesman.
It was better to use free-from labels sparingly, for example labelling bread as gluten-free and wheat-free was informative, but labelling tofu as dairy-free was not, as it is made from soy and did not contain dairy. He added: “The danger is that these clean-labels could become self-defeating, as consumers start shunning them.”