More and more consumers shop for foods that are free from common allergens, whether or not they or someone in their families require such products. The rise of food allergies and the gluten-free trend have brought free-from foods to the attention of a wider array of consumers, taking these foods from niche to mainstream.
Many consumers avoid major allergens due to sensitivities that may not rise to the level of a true allergy. In particular, some consumers experience symptoms of sensitivity or intolerence to nuts, soy, or eggs and accordingly avoid these ingredients as much as possible. Additionally, allergy safety practices increasingly make allergen-free foods necessary for students and children. Some schools and daycares disallow foods with certain ingredients, while children with severe allergies need their friends to avoid these foods—at least while they are together—as well.
For all these reasons, opportunities abound in the free-from category. Three areas are particularly worth noting: foodservice, confectionery, and snack.
Allergen-free dining is a growing trend, as consumers with allergies no longer accept that dining out is not an option for them. Although restaurants have always offered some allergen-free options—and disclosed allergenic foods where necessary—we see growing potential for specialized restaurants with whole menus of allergen-free foods. These might be centered around fermented foods, raw cuisine, or other health-focused concepts. The dessert menu may be the most challenging element, requiring creative thinking and innovative ingredients to eliminate eggs, milk, wheat, and nuts. Dessert options to overcome these challenges could include decadent grain-free brownies, dairy-free pots de chocolate, or allergen-free sorbets and ices.
With confectionery products, eliminating soy, nuts, and dairy can be quite challenging. Trace elements of allergens are prevalent in confectionery due to cross contamination in the factory. Though recent brands like Pascha Chocolates are creating new options for children and adults with allergies, ample opportunity exists for market expansion. Schools and parents responsible for children with allergies would welcome the opportunity to revive Halloween and birthday traditions with safe treats. Free-from alternatives for the traditional candy bar, gummies, or high-end chocolate could all find an enthusiastic audience.
Snacks are not generally viewed as a clean label product, nor are they expected to have premium health and wellness claims. However, with consumers increasing their consumption of snack food, especially at meal times, a need for more nutritionally complete and widely accessible items continues to grow. Free-from snacks could be a valuable player in this trend, including healthy bars, nut-free trail mixes, or snack cakes.