The firm, which has made its name in the health food arena, said it planned to stock more than 3,000 products made without allergens such as gluten, milk, nuts, egg and fish.
A third of these products are available to buy online now, with the aim of rolling out the rest by the end of the year. The store itself stocks 700 stock keeping units of free-from products.
The offering would be available in stores, and online for home delivery, and the company had the ambition of becoming the UK’s biggest free-from retailer, it said. It also plans to launch a ‘click and collect’ online order service for customers from July.
Emma Cockerill, director of sales and procurement for Holland & Barrett and free-from project lead told FoodManufacture.co.uk the project had been brewing for a year, inspired by an allergic reaction suffered by her daughter Matilda.
“In the first instance, dairy was the problem – baby milk. At 14 weeks old she went into anaphylactic shock, was unconscious and couldn’t breathe. I then had her tested for allergies and confirmed she was allergic to dairy, eggs and soya.
“I went through a period of being critical with retailers and frustrated with the lack of range of free-from products.”
Cockerill then became the driving force behind developing Holland & Barrett’s free-from strategy. That was after she returned from maternity leave and Peter Aldis, ceo of the retailer’s parent company NBTY Europe, whose son also has a nut allergy, allowed her to lead the project.
- One in five people believe they have a food allergy or intolerance (You Gov)
- 15% of UK households avoid gluten and wheat (You Gov)
- Food allergy hospital admissions have grown by more than 500% since 1990, costing £68M a year
- The free-from market value is set to rise by 50% to £550M by 2018 (Mintel)
- One in 10 food products launched in 2014 had a free-from claim (Mintel)
- Free-from is one of fastest business growth areas in the UK (startups.co.uk)
Holland & Barrett currently ran 3M of free-from products in its stores, said Cockerill. The new concept store would take that space to 22M. It is 510m2 in size, the company’s largest so far, and would also be selling organic fruit and vegetables, she added. “I would like to think this would probably be one of the smaller ones.”
The company had not confirmed any further store locations, but was scouting for sites, she said. Products stocked by the More stores include Little Turban’s nut-free curry sauce, confectionery free of all 14 major allergens from Goody Good Stuff, Smooze’s allergen-free ice cream and Angelic’s gluten-free biscuits and crackers.
Cockerill would not disclose what Holland & Barrett’s sales targets were for the first year of the More concept, saying only that they were “ambitious”. “But I am more focused on making sure we cover all allergies with our free-from products.”
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the FreeFromAwards, told this site: “This is a great idea for those people who would use Holland & Barrett for other things. It has nationwide coverage and access to the health market as opposed to just the food market, which is a very good thing.” She said she believed the idea had long-term commercial potential.
The move had been made in response to massive consumer demand for such products, Aldis said. “The speed of growth of free-from has seen it transform from what was once regarded as a nutritional niche into a mainstream shopping option.
“You Gov data on where people buy free-from products shows we already do well in this market, scoring significantly ahead of Boots and very close to Waitrose and Morrisons.
“We already have more high street stores than many of the big supermarkets, and the 50 new concept stores we have planned for the next two years will help ensure we can deliver against our ambition to become the largest free-from retailer in the UK.”
Holland & Barrett is also partnering charity Allergy UK, which campaigns to raise awareness of allergies and support allergy sufferers.