Speaking at the Free From Foods Expo in Barcelona last week, David Jago, director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel, said Europe has experienced a diet revolution.
Mintel is a market intelligence agency with offices worldwide and its data on the free-from market shows just how much consumer preferences have changed in the last ten years.
“We have seen a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour when it comes to healthy eating,” said Jago.
“Consumer diets are much more complicated and much more fragmented than they ever were before”.
Is it a choice?
Covering all free-from categories in his talk, including vegetarianism and gluten free, Jago said the trend is a choice rather than just about intolerances and allergies.
“Practically half of UK consumers are avoiding something, ingredients wide, but look at the reasons why: 24% say they are avoiding something as part of a healthy lifestyle and only 19% is because of an allergy or intolerance and most of that is self-diagnosed,” he explained.
Data shows that in 2008, less than 1% of all product introductions in all of Europe were labelled as vegan according to Mintel Global New Products Database. Now, just less than ten years later, the amount has risen to 7% of all food and drink product innovations.
Jago said this is an “astonishing rate of growth”.
He continued to say that millennials are, in particular, driving the free-from market, compared to older generations.
Furthermore, non-vegetarian consumers are actively decreasing the amount of meat they eat and are now buying vegan or vegetarian products.
“Consumers are adopting a vegan diet some of the time, they have tried a vegan diet and go back to it, or they sometimes buy vegan products. It is a declaration of intent” said Jago.
Plant-based products lead the market
Jago told attendants of the show that the majority of consumers now recognise that plant protein can be just as nutritious as animal protein, however the issue lies with taste.
Only a third of consumers say that they like the taste of plant protein products best, according to Mintel data, showing that taste could be holding the free-from market back.
Jago said companies should invest more in developing the taste and texture of products, as well as marketing them in the right way.
Using words such as ‘delicious’, ‘indulgent’ and ‘convenient’ could be key marketing attributes for the free-from market.
“It tastes good, it’s nutritious and balanced and it’s highly convenient – these are three reasons to buy into that particular product,” said Jago.
“Talking just about health and nutrition isn’t enough”.
Ancient grains or grain-free could be the way forward
Mintel predicts that trends to look out for in the free-from market will be ancient grains, or grain free.
Naturally gluten free grains are gaining traction says Jago and are now an ingredient that consumers actively look for.
Jago says this trend is mostly for gluten-free by choice consumers rather than those with an intolerance.
On the other hand, going grain-free could become mainstream in the near future, with more and more consumers buying into the trend.
“It seems a bit exaggerated right now, but ten years ago, if we had sat in a room and said gluten free is going to be huge and lots of people are going to buy into it, lots of people would have said we were crazy!” Jago commented.
Again, millennials seem to be the driving force for the trend due to their experimental nature.
The dairy free boom
Whilst at the show, Jago also shared insights into the dairy-free market and commented that plant-based products now account for 11% of all ‘dairy’ new product development, compared to 6% in 2013.
The trend, similar to veganism and gluten free, is popular amongst millennials and is more about a healthy lifestyle choice than intolerance.
Mintel’s data shows that lactose-free cow’s milk is now less popular than soy and other plant-based milks in most of Europe.
Jago says even dairy companies are going vegan to meet consumer demands.
Ben & Jerry’s, a well-known ice cream brand, released vegan friendly indulgent ice cream last year, which Jago says was a tipping point due to their strong influence in the industry.