Label confusion for UK 'free-fromers'
With 48% of UK households avoiding at least one food ingredient and 20% doing so because of food allergy or intolerance you would think it would be in manufacturers’ interests to make it easy for consumers to find out what is in their products.
Isn’t that the purpose of the label? If so the labels are not serving their purpose as, in a recent Mintel survey, 63% of UK consumers said they found it difficult to identify which allergens a product is free from by its label.
While pre-packaged goods are legally required to highlight on-pack the presence of any allergens, almost half (48%) of Brits are unsure whether or not allergen labels are clear, and a further 15% actively disagree that this is the case.
“Potential changes to allergen labelling has received a lot of high-profile media coverage recently, with speculation that the government is planning to introduce new changes following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette. Given the perceived lack of clarity and the dangerous health implications that ambiguous allergen labelling can have on consumers, there is a real need for companies to make the presence of allergens very obvious on labelling,” said Emma Clifford, Associate Director of Food and Drink at Mintel.
“While current regulations require allergens to be listed in bold on the ingredients list, many companies choose to highlight certain free-from credentials on the front of packaging as well. At the moment this is not regulated and, as such, there is no uniformity between the labelling used, which can fuel confusion among consumers, particularly given the huge amount of other product information on packaging. There is strong demand for a UK-wide labelling system for allergens which would unify the way in which companies communicate this information on packaging,” she added.
Estimated to be worth £837 million in 2018, the UK free-from market has seen stellar growth over 2013–18 with sales growing by 133% over this time period.
A UK-wide allergen labelling system on free-from product packaging appeals to 29% of those who have bought/used free-from products, a figure which rises to 39% of those users who avoid foods/ingredients because of an allergy or intolerance.
Who’s avoiding what foods in the UK?
According to Mintel, just under half (48%) of consumers say that they, or someone in their household, avoid at least one food/ingredient, with 16- to 24-year-olds (61%) the most likely age group to report household avoidance of foods/ingredients. Overall, there has been no significant change in the share of UK consumers that avoid certain foods or ingredients over the past year.
Perhaps surprisingly, only 20% of consumers (or other members of their household) avoid certain ingredients due to an allergy or intolerance, which is on a par with those who do so as part of a healthy lifestyle (22%). Of those who have eaten/drunk free-from foods, 28% do not avoid any foods/ingredients.
Meanwhile, three in 10 (30%) Brits avoid certain foods/ingredients for other reasons (eg, ethical, vegetarian) rising to 38% of under-25s and 41% of females in this age group.
While dairy is the most commonly avoided food/ingredient (17%), avoidance of dairy has remained unchanged over the last three years. Soya (16%), fish or shellfish (16%), red meat (15%) and lactose (15%) make up the top five foods/ingredients which Brits avoid.
“Allergies or intolerances aren’t the main reason that consumers are avoiding certain foods or ingredients. Healthy lifestyles and ethical and environmental concerns are also boosting the appeal of these products, with young consumers in particular most likely to be driven by these factors.
“The fact that as many as a quarter of free-from purchasers do not avoid any foods/ingredients reflects that the pool of free-from users is far wider than just those who fully avoid certain ingredients, either due to allergies/intolerances or for other reasons.”
Gluten-free is most commonly bought free-from food.
Gluten-free products remain the nation’s most popular type of free-from food with 27% of consumers having purchased or eaten these over six months, despite only 12% of consumers reporting that they or somebody else in their household avoid gluten.
Meanwhile, a quarter (23%) of consumers have purchased dairy substitutes, while 19% have bought dairy-free foods.
A quarter (26%) of consumers say free-from diets are good for digestive health, but 44% say that it is hard to know whether they have health benefits for those without an allergy or intolerance. A further 40% worry that following a free-from diet puts you at risk of missing out on certain nutrients.
“The idea that following a free-from diet could potentially put people at risk of missing out on certain nutrients is a concern for a significant number of consumers. Gluten-free products carrying nutrient fortification claims are not widespread in the UK market, suggesting a missed opportunity. While highlighting the absence of allergens is vital, spotlighting nutritional credentials is also important for free-from products, particularly to appeal to those opting for these products as part of a healthy lifestyle,” concluded Clifford.
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