There is a growing trend among American consumers, as well as in global markets, toward the avoidance of a host of specific food ingredients and components. Though shunning specific foods or ingredients is not a new phenomenon, today food avoidance has become a way of life for tens of millions of American consumers of all ages and is increasingly impacting the product trajectory of the U.S. food and beverage industry, according to “Food Formulation Trends: Ingredients Consumers Avoid,” a report by market research publisher Packaged Facts.
For some consumers, avoiding certain foods and ingredients is a matter of life and death due to allergies and sensitivities or specific health problems, such as celiac disease, diabetes or lactose intolerance. However, “free from” food products are increasing in popularity among consumers without any specific mandatory medical motives or religious dietary restrictions. In the absence of a specific health condition the decision to opt for “free from” products—fat free, sugar free, salt free, gluten free and so on—can be viewed as a lifestyle choice by consumers who increasingly place a high priority on healthy living. Packaged Facts’ research reveals that the rate of U.S. consumers who claim they are watching their diet remained at an average of 52 percent between 2006 and 2013, compared to only 28 percent of Americans in 2004.
“Consumers avoid certain foods or food ingredients for preventive health reasons that may be for their own personal health, the health of their children, and, among pregnant women, as a factor in prenatal health,” says David Sprinkle, Packaged Facts research director. “This is not about dealing with specific allergies but rather a matter of optimizing health and also about seeking to create a quality of life based on eliminating negatives, with the point being not to make oneself sick.”
Food manufacturers, recognizing the opportunity to appeal to concerned consumers who also tend to be trendsetters for other consumers, are extremely accommodating to this shift toward food avoidances, reformulating products to eliminate those ingredients that are being shunned. Of course, food manufacturers have been reformulating their products for decades, especially products in which the fat, sugar or salt contents needed to be reduced or eliminated in order to appeal to more health-conscious consumers. But there remains an opportunity for major food and beverage companies to become more active in producing “free from” products.
Recently, according to Packaged Facts, major companies such as General Mills are increasingly becoming involved in providing products that appeal to food avoiders, but specialty marketers still lead the way in producing “free from” foods and beverages. Retailers also are increasingly engaged in providing private label versions of “free from” products for food avoiders.