Manufacturers urged to go 'mass-market' with food intolerance products

By Louise Prance

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Milk

Food manufacturers are being urged to cash in on the growing
consumer demand for specialised food intolerance products and to
steer the trend more towards the mass-market.

According to Euromonitor International, the food industry is struggling to keep up with the rise in food allergies or 'sensitivities' in the UK, and as a result many sufferers have to seek out premium priced food products in specialist outlets. "For mainstream manufacturers and retailers, it is important to realise that foods for intolerances are no longer niche",​ comments Simone Baroke, health and wellness products analyst at Euromonitor International. According to Allergy UK, 45 per cent of the UK population battling food sensitivities at some point in their life, and 2 per cent suffer from a food allergy. This leaves a massive gap in the market for mainstream retailers to embrace the trend, said Euromonitor. Indeed, supermarkets have already started to wake up to the new opportunity and are increasingly challenging the small health food shops and pharmacies by creating popular own brand product lines, such as Sainsbury's 'Free From' range. The market leaders in the UK's gluten free category still remain private label bakery products, followed by Royal Numico's Trufree, Ener-G (Ener-G Foods Inc.), Dietary Specials (Nutrition Point Ltd) and Glutano (Glutano GmbH). Arla's Lactolite is the UK's leading lactose-free milk brand. According to the market researcher, the UK is the third-biggest market for gluten-free foods (after the US and Italy), amounting to £47m (€70m) in 2006. Sales of lactose-free products (dairy products, ice cream, baby foods) have increased by 29 per cent since 2002, reaching £23m (€34m) in 2006. Euromonitor stated that consumer awareness of allergies is on the rise, and people are therefore becoming more intuitive in creating a stable diet. As a result they are now seeking cheaper food alternatives with which to do so. "Consumers are much more aware now that a heavy reliance on one staple grain, such as wheat, may be detrimental to a balanced dietary intake. They are therefore willing to adopt alternatives, like wheat-free breakfast cereals or goat-milk based dairy products, especially if they are of premium quality, attractively packaged and not outrageously priced",​ said Baroke. According to an interview with a food and drinks advisor at Coeliac UK, a gluten-intolerance network, allergy sufferers want to see more 'normal' foods adjusted to cater for their needs, such as gluten-free jaffa cakes, pitta breads, pizzas, sausage rolls or maybe even a pork pie. Such items are currently available, but remain limited to large stores. The biggest problem posed in the food market for celiac sufferers remains breakfast cereals, with most large manufacturers such as Kelloggs and Weetabix creating ranges that contain ingredients such as barley malt extract and wheat gluten - all off-limits to the consumers who mainly have to limit themselves to cornflakes and puffed rice. Euromonitor claims that larger manufacturers either completely ignore the growing food-sensitive consumer base or are unwilling to tackle the problem of cross-contamination. The market researcher says the food intolerance market in the UK holds "massive growth potential".​ It is now encouraging manufacturers to further investments into products that can be labelled as free from wheat, gluten, cows milk, lactose, egg, soya, nuts and ominous additives, such as sulphites. Likewise, now is a good time for large industry players to acquire smaller, specialist companies who have the potential to prosper given the resources, it said. "Such companies can blossom once provided with adequate resources, as demonstrated by organic companies such as Rachel's Dairy (acquired by Dean Foods) and Green & Blacks (acquired by Cadbury Schweppes)."​ The larger companies would benefit from their custom-built production facilities - providing uncontaminated products.

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