More than one in four Brits now regularly buy free-from products, according to exclusive research for The Grocer. 27% of 2,035 consumers polled by Harris Interactive say they regularly buy lactose, dairy, gluten or grain-free products, up from 19% a year ago. 

But just 14% of those consumers say they have a medical condition that requires them to avoid gluten and other allergens. The most cited reason for going free-from was ”for my general health”, with 31% choosing this option. 27% said it was a lifestyle choice and 23% choose such products to avoid ‘feeling bloated’. 

Nuts on course to take free-from milk top spot
Dairy-free milk alternatives are flying. Sales have jumped 49.3% to £241.1m in the past two years [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 22 May 2016]. Nut milk has contributed the most to this growth, surging 164% to £74.7m and overtaking lactose-free to become the category’s second-biggest sector after soya milk. 

The overall free-from dairy category has grown 44.4% to £324.8m on volumes up 39.2% during that period, says Kantar analyst Stephanie Sims. “The market appeals to the health conscious making a lifestyle choice in addition to those suffering from intolerances,” she added. “As a result, we see growth coming through more and more new shoppers entering the market.
Nut milks are on course to overtake soya, which has seen growth of just 2.5% on volumes that inched up 0.6%, as the number one free-from milk sector in the coming year. This has primarily been driven by the growing popularity of coconut milk. 

Which retailers have the biggest share of Free From?
Tesco and Sainsbury’s command more than half of the UK free-from market, with value sales up 7.2% and 11.7% respectively [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 9 October]. Both retailers have taken bigger slices of the sector than their share of the wider grocery market by developing own label ranges and pioneering new approaches to how the sector is merchandised. 

Just this week, Tesco and Alpro began rolling out dedicated chilled free-from fixtures to accelerate growth. Morrisons has seen the strongest growth in the big four, with its free-from sales surging 62% after the retailer doubled its free-from range earlier in the year. In May, the retailer ran its first TV ads to showcase the range. At 10%, Morrisons’ share of free-from is still smaller than the 10.7% of the overall grocery market the retailer commands. Asda is lagging much further behind with 8.7% of the market versus 15.9% of grocery. Asda’s free-from sales have risen by just 1.1%, the slowest rate of any major retailer.