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Who is the “Free-From” Shopper?


Are your shoppers buzzing about “free-from” foods?

If so, it’s no surprise—consumer demand is growing for products that are free from ingredients such as gluten, allergens, GMOs, artificial flavors and preservatives, added sugars and unhealthy fats. In fact, almost 13 percent of global food and beverage introductions in 2013 included a free-from claim, up 3 percent over the previous five years, according to What’s In Store 2015 by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association.

Who is the “free-from” shopper? The 2014 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation offers some possible insight.

According to the survey, significant numbers of consumers in general are trying to limit or avoid several food components. These components include sodium/salt (53 percent) added sugars (51 percent), sugars in general (50 percent), trans fat (49 percent), calories (48 percent), high-fructose corn syrup (48 percent) and saturated fats (47 percent). About one-third say the same for preservatives (37 percent), and appreciable numbers clock in for food colors (21 percent) and gluten (13 percent).

Beyond that, the survey carved out a segment of respondents (23 percent) that seems to embody the “free-from” consumer. These respondents were identified as having had a recent emotional conversation about food choices. They tend to be younger on average (about 43), female and have kids at home.

The analysis says that these respondents are “passionate about food,” and give a great deal of thought about the healthfulness, ingredients, sustainability and safety of foods. Two-thirds think a lot about ingredients and more than half consider 18 different food components when they shop. Their purchase decisions are highly influenced by a product’s healthfulness, with 86 percent saying this factor has an important impact. They’re especially likely to seek out protein, calcium and fiber, and to avoid or limit added sugars/sugars in general, high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats and preservatives. They’re more likely to use health claims on labels to make buying decisions, and to regularly buy foods labeled as natural, organic, antibiotic-free, hormone-free and eco-friendly, according to the IFIC analysis.

The proliferation of free-from claims opens the door for retail dietitians to educate shoppers about what these claims mean—and don’t mean. Those of us who were dietitians during the fat-free product boom of the 1990s know too well that some consumers mistook the claim to mean healthy or nutritious and a license to overindulge in fat-free chips, cookies and other treats.

To be sure, many of today’s products with free-from labeling are wholesome and nutritious. And free-from products like gluten-free cookies and non-allergen candy let people with certain health conditions enjoy treats they otherwise couldn’t—and offer options for those who simply prefer to avoid various ingredients. Whatever the reason, retail dietitians can use one-to-one interactions, programs and communications to clearly explain each free-from claim and help shoppers choose the best products for their lifestyles, health concerns and eating plans.

Read more about the free-from product trend starting on page 46 of the March 2015 issue of Progressive Grocer.

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