The Growth of Free From – Allergy Awareness Week 2022

Allergy Awareness Week 2022 takes place from the 26-30th April, and while this covers all types of allergies, this year’s theme is centred on food allergy (specifically in children). When you consider that around 11-26 million members of the European population are estimated to suffer from food allergy, it’s clear that this is something with a widespread impact that warrants understanding, education and attention. 

Food allergies and awareness of allergens have garnered increasing attention in recent years, with exponential growth in the range and diversity of products on offer. With people suffering everything from mild hypersensitivity to certain foods, through to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, it’s never been more relevant to ensure we know what’s in our food and that we’re careful in managing production. At Billington Group, we’re absolutely obsessed with health and safety, from machine safety to focusing on ensuring no cross-contamination where allergens are concerned. In this blog, we’re taking a look at what has prompted continued growth in the free-from sector; are there more allergies now, or does the industry appeal to a wider audience? Well, probably both, let’s take a look. 

The current state of the free-from market

There is a split in this market between those that need these options and choices, and those that drive up demand while choosing them for other reasons, which we will get to shortly. 

The pandemic (yep it’s still impacting the sales and futures of various products) saw a rise in the allergy/free-from sector. This in part, relates to the close down of foodservice and issues with supply-chains and stock levels in other products becoming strained. Mintel reported that ‘sales in the specific free-from market grew to £652 million in 2020, with dairy-free and lactose-free sales reaching £455 million’. With a significant portion of the population now understanding and learning about their own intolerances and allergies, this demand is expected to remain, but what else can be attributed to this rise in demand? Gone are the days of sitting by and accepting gut issues and ill-health, we’re more attuned to our bodies than ever before, and even if an allergy is not severe, it can cause unwelcome side-effects.

Why more people are turning to free-from

More and more of us have been influenced, especially over the last two years, to pay more attention to the health and environmental issues surrounding the foods we know and love. This was in part driven by the pandemic’s focus on how we could and should better avoid illness to steel ourselves against COVID-19, but programmes focusing on the role of food production in the climate crisis have begun to filter into the the consumer consciousness and subsequently, people are choosing different grains, avoiding gluten, swapping milks for oat or nut alternatives and cutting down on dairy. 

Mintel refers to this trend as ‘reducetarianism’ and it seems that this is driven primarily by the younger generations as they seek to halt what they consider to be a detriment to their own health and the environment.

What does the food industry have to do to protect those with allergies? 

While it’s a very positive step that so many of us are seeking to do good, eat well and learn more, for many this is not a choice, so what can food production companies like us do and what is expected to keep people safe? 

Well, the rules around food labelling and legislated allergens (particularly for prepackaged food to go) were updated from October 1st 2021. The new requirements mean that all food prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) must bear a label with an ingredients list and if the food contains any of the 14 legislated allergens, these must be clearly listed on the label.

The legislated allergens list consists of: 

  • Cereals containing gluten/wheat
  • Crustaceans and their by-products
  • Eggs
  • Fish 
  • Peanuts
  • Soy beans
  • Milk
  • Nuts (a broad spectrum including hazelnuts, walnut, cashew and more) 
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame 
  • Sulphur dioxide or sulphites (at certain concentrations)
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs 

We, and all other food producers need to ensure we adhere to all of these regulations and also keep a keen eye on consumer trends as the free-from market continues to expand. If you’d like to speak to any of our team about how we manage allergens, develop our ranges and more, get in touch today.