One of the biggest opportunities for the food and beverage industry to serve shoppers in 2021 is to build trust and loyalty with those impacted by food allergies.
Roughly 25% of the U.S. population is now avoiding foods that contain one of the top nine allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs, milk, shellfish, finned fish, soy and sesame), according to new research examining consumer habits of diverse populations. For 60 million Americans, this is due to a food allergy or intolerance, while another 25 million are indirectly impacted: They’re avoiding foods containing a top-nine allergen because someone in their home has an allergy or intolerance.
The research, conducted by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), in partnership with Northwestern University, McKinsey & Co., and Global Strategy Group, found that these 85 million Americans represent a $19 billion market opportunity for food manufacturers. And these figures will continue to rise, as the number of food-allergic consumers has increased by 4% per year over the past 20 years. This trend has led many in the food and beverage industry to ask, “How do we win the hearts and minds of the food allergy community?”
Barriers to Purchase
The answer is quite simple: Consumer trust is built by consistently providing safe products that are both tasty and affordable. For the food allergy consumer, there are three core barriers to purchase: Health concerns are the leading barrier, followed by taste and affordability.
Health concerns understandably drive food allergy consumer purchase decisions. Our research found that claims like “manufactured on a line that also processes tree nuts” leave consumers feeling uneasy and fearing potential cross contact, highlighting the health barrier and the need for on-pack allergy-friendly labeling. One food allergy mom told us, “The most important advice I could offer is better to be safe than sorry; when in doubt, leave it out.”
Many products that are actually safe to consume are avoided by allergy-aware consumers because the allergen information was unclear due to inconsistent labeling and information across different product lines. Manufacturers and retailers must prioritize information sharing and standardize precautionary allergen labeling to reduce customer confusion and build trust.
The next barrier in building trust comes from the fact that food allergy consumers are constantly in search of new products that not only meet their health concerns, but also taste good. Our research partners describe them as “loyal but always looking.”
Finally, the third barrier is cost. While health concerns can be addressed and trust can be earned, many consumers are also looking for safe, delicious food that’s affordable. The lack of affordable options is particularly challenging for underserved communities. We repeatedly heard, throughout our research, concerns regarding the high cost of allergen-free products, which are often twice the price and half the size of similar allergen-containing products. Another food allergy mom noted: “Back at the beginning [of her child’s diagnosis], I sold a lot of my belongings, along with receiving food stamps and WIC, just to afford food, as you can’t use food banks when you have allergies. They think it’s a luxury. For us, it’s life.”
Whether it’s paying more for groceries each month or spending three to five minutes on average reading food labels before deciding whether a product is safe to consume, life is challenging for those with food allergies and intolerances. Supporting this growing population of American consumers is possible, however, if the food and beverage industry recognizes the barriers that these consumers face and takes steps to remedy those barriers. Food manufacturers that provide safe, tasty and affordable products will earn both the trust and financial support of the food allergy consumer for years to come.