Marks & Spencer to launch gluten-free beer

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Brewers want to target women with gluten-free beer
Brewers want to target women with gluten-free beer

Related tags: Allergy, Asthma

Marks & Spencer is believed to be investigating the UK launch of a gluten-free (GF) beer, to complement its range of GF foods. 

Beer and pizzas are set to be the next big growth area in the UK’s free-from food sector, according market research specialist Mintel. It follows the success of growing numbers of launches in the more mature US free-from market.

All the major brewers are said to be looking into developing gluten-free beers, which are expected to appeal to women, according to Mintel’s global market analyst Chris Brockman. Brewers are particularly interested in targeting female consumers, Brockman added.

Women express greater intolerance to food and drink than men, according to a new YouGov survey.

Beer and pizza: ‘the two laggards’

Speaking at an event in London on September 10, Brockman noted that while the stellar growth seen recently in free-food development and sales was slowing, the sector remained very strong, with beer and pizza categories – “the two laggards” – ​compared with launches in other categories, such as cereal-based snacks, pasta and bakery.

“There are more opportunities in beer and pizza,”​ said Brockman, speaking at a free-from food summit organised by the Food & Drink Innovation Network (FDIN). “Less than 1% of beer launches globally contain a gluten-free claim.”

Brockman added: “There is a big opportunity for​ [gluten-free beer] but it hasn’t taken off to any degree so far – although there are some major brewers looking at it.”

The potential for sales of gluten-free pizzas in the UK could also be large. In the US, sales of Freschetta gluten-free pizzas amounted to $1.5M 37 weeks after their launch in November 2013 ​outselling sales of conventional products, said Brockman: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gluten-free line outsell mainstream lines.”

While the numbers of people diagnosed with medical allergies is growing, growth in the free-from sector is increasingly being driven by those expressing some sort of intolerance to certain foods, or others who choose free-from foods for lifestyle reasons and are seeking healthier food choices.

Free-from: higher in fat and sugar

The irony, however, is that many free-from foods contain higher levels of fat and sugar than their allergen containing equivalents. According to Brockman, 48% of UK free-from consumers think free-from foods are often higher in fat and sugar than regular foods.

The results of the YouGov survey of 1,039 people online conducted for the FDIN and released at the summit suggested that one-third of UK households include at least one allergy or intolerance sufferer.

“We found that over one in five (22%) of the UK population consider themselves to have a food allergy or intolerance,”​ said Louise Vacher, consulting director for YouGov. “This is a massive issue and the potential for the free-from market is large.”

While dairy and gluten allergy/intolerance are most commonly expressed, peanut, nut and egg allergies have been associated with some of the most serious reactions, including deaths through anaphylactic shock.

The EU has a list of 14 different allergens that mainly affect consumers in Europe, ranging from peanuts and tree nuts, to gluten, milk, fish and eggs. However, there are over 160 foods known to provoke an allergic reactions in sensitive individuals around the world, said consultant Dr Rachel Ward.

In the first half of 2014 over 10% of food and drink launched globally was for gluten-free products, while around 2% was for lactose-free products, said Brockman.

Indulgent free-from products

Brockman put the success of Boulder Brands’s Udi’s products down to their tapping into demand for “indulgent”​ free-from products. US company Boulder Brands is expanding into the UK​ following its acquisition of Cheshire gluten-free baking business Davies Bakery, previously part of Frank Roberts and Sons.

While the major brands have begun to enter the free-from market, there have been some notable failures, said Brockman, such as Heinz’s Deliciously gluten-free pasta sauces, which “failed to impress … primarily because they overplayed the gluten-free element”, ​said Brockman.


EU allergen list

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Milk
  • Sesame
  • Soya
  • Molluscs
  • Suphur dioxide
  • Mustard
  • Celery
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs

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