Eighty-five million U.S. consumers managing food allergies spend more than $19 billion annually on specialty food products to avoid allergic reactions or other health consequences – paying 5 percent more per month than the average consumer—according to new research released June 22 from FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the largest private funder of food allergy research in the world.
“Our research confirms the food allergy community is vast – extending beyond an individual to entire households, and they face unique and costly challenges as they take steps to protect the health and safety of their families,” said Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE. “For all 85 million Americans this can be expensive, but especially for lower-income families with food allergies, allergen avoidance can be prohibitive and crippling.”
The findings are part of FARE’s Food Allergy Consumer Journey Study, a series of research projects on food allergy consumers, their shopping habits and the challenges they face when accessing safe and affordable foods. The initiative includes three distinct studies in partnership with three research organizations:
- McKinsey & Co.: Characterization of the food allergy marketplace and its economic impact (the number of consumers impacted by food allergies and intolerances and their shopping habits) and recommendations for improving food allergen labeling practices.
- Global Strategy Group (GSG): Measurement of the impact of food allergies on the budgets of socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and families and characterization of their experiences with accessing safe food.
- The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago: Assessment of food allergy consumer preferences regarding precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) used on packaged food, and recommendations for improvement.
The key takeaway across all three projects was consistent: a universal label is needed. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently requires disclosure of the top eight allergens in ingredient lists, and FARE is actively advocating that sesame be added as a ninth, there is no universal phrase or image to show that a product may unintentionally contain an allergen. Some additional takeaways include:
- More than half (53 percent) of America’s food allergy consumers indicate current labels are problematic and interfere with their daily lives.
- More than seven-in-10 (71 percent) say they spend on average three to five minutes reading the labels of every single food item they purchase, supporting the need for a universal label.
This research lays out a clear roadmap to solving a problem that affects more than 85 million Americans and disproportionately hurts low-income households. Currently, nearly 38 million Americans are living below the poverty line, more than 40 million Americans use food stamps and low-income households managing food allergies spend 2.5 times more on emergency department and hospitalization costs than food allergy households with higher incomes. This new research found that food allergy consumers are inadequately served and represent $19 billion in untapped potential sales.
Larger brands – which currently suffer a deficit of trust from food-allergic American consumers – have the chance to lead the charge and benefit from this untapped market opportunity.
“Currently, precautionary labeling is voluntary and inconsistent, which is confusing for consumers and stressful for those with food allergies who rely on information about what is in their food, especially regarding allergens,” said Dr. Ruchi Gupta, FARE medical advisor for Public Health and Education and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “Taking time to fully understand the food allergy consumer has shown us that there is a simple and cost-effective solution: if companies create a standardized labeling structure for the top nine allergens, those with food allergies will be able to confidently choose more safe food options for their families.”
FARE is the world’s leading food allergy advocacy organization and the largest private funder of food allergy research. Its mission is to improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments.