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UK food and drink companies keeping up with consumer trend towards healthier choices

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The UK is internationally renowned for its excellent food and drink sector with a global reputation as an exporter that upholds values of quality, reliability and transparency. From historic brands with long traditions, to companies at the cutting-edge of technology, UK food and drink has so much to offer its international partners.

However, the shift in the buying habits of British consumers has been just as innovative over recent years. There has been a growing trend towards food and drink products that support the environment, animal welfare and personal nutritional goals. As a result, the UK now has one of the most developed organic and free-from markets in the world, the latter predicted to be worth £558m in 2018, according to Mintel.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the free-from category due to an increased celebrity culture, an increase in media attention, more retail presence, a higher level of well-known brands entering the market, but also due to the improved diagnoses of intolerances. Around one-third of British consumers are now buying and eating free-from food, of whom:

  • 22% buy gluten-free products
  • 19% buy dairy-free products 
  • 16% buy wheat-free and lactose-free products
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                                                                           13% of the UK population say they avoid gluten – the highest in Europe

However, whilst shoppers with specific dietary requirements may be revelling in the recent abundance of choice, the appeal of the free-from category is broader than one may have thought. Mintel reports that 55% of free-from consumers do not actually have an allergy or intolerance, nor do they live with anyone that does – i.e. choosing free-from produce is a lifestyle ​choice. It is this intriguing blend of purchase decisions that is propelling what was once categorised as a ‘niche’ market to new heights.

Another reason for the recent boom of free-from food is the increase in new product developments and innovation. While some British products are still made to centuries-old recipes, the UK is a leading pioneer in food production techniques, particularly in areas like high-tech packaging and convenience. British innovators created frozen food, ready-meals and instant coffee -– items that have undoubtedly revolutionised the industry – and continue to explore new ideas.

 Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire is the largest agricultural research centre in the country and one of the oldest in the world. Its many success stories include:

  • Producing seeds with novel plant oils to help fish farmers achieve better health and environmental benefits.
  • Research on arsenic uptake in rice that could protect millions of people worldwide from being poisoned.
  • Developing a companion planting system that has helped triple maize yields in Africa.
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 The UK is renowned for its expertise in food technology and innovation

This impressive background of food innovation combined with the growing consumer trend towards organic and free-from produce is a recipe for success: extensive nutritional research is now underway, leading to the development and manufacture of value-added products for the health-conscious consumer and their family. UK baby food brand, Ella’s Kitchen, is one company that does precisely that, using organic ingredients to give children a healthy start in life.

 With consumers around the world increasingly willing to pay more for organic and free-from food, there is a growing opportunity to source these value-added products from the British companies that pioneered the category and that continue to lead the way in food technology.

To connect with British experts at Gulfood 2018, visit the UK Pavilion in the World Food​ section of Sheikh Saeed Hall: stand S-M34 - S-N33.