One in every 13 children in the U.S. under the age of 18 has one or more food allergies according to the C.D.C. With food allergies increasing at an increasingly rapid rate (approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011 according to the C.D.C), the demand for free-from foods is on the rise.
Free From Foods
What are free-from foods?
Responsible for roughly 90% of the allergic reactions in the US, the “big 8” allergens (dairy, egg, fish, peanuts, soy, tree nuts, shellfish and wheat) are the main targets in the free-from food trend. Gluten-free foods are leading the pack with dairy coming in a close second.
Naturally being free from a potential allergen does not mean a food qualifies in the free-from category. Care must be taken to ensure there are no detectable residues by ensuring the harvest, packing, transportation, and processing steps are all compliant to prevent cross-contamination. There is a certain need for transportation, facilities, and packaging that also qualifies.
As an added challenge, the final qualification is that it must also be free of any unnatural preservatives.
Who is purchasing free-from foods?
Although allergies account for the majority reasoning for free-from foods, there is also an underlying “lifestyle” trend. Free-from foods are considered to be healthier overall by majority consumers.
Rising competition in the free-from food industry is also driving premium pricing. Typically once the initial “hype” wears off, such foods will be made more affordable.
Due to the rising competition, innovation is key. Most consumers still want their foods to contain the same texture, taste, and feel as their allergen-filled counterparts which can be challenging.
Current trends in free-from prepackaged foods
- Candy – candy may seem simple but it often contains milk (chocolate), nuts, or gluten. There are several candy companies who are taking the free-from trend seriously and are exchanging milk chocolate with dark chocolate, seeds in place of nuts, and binders other than gluten.
- Chocolate – Traditionally dark chocolate was the preferred choice by folks who are dairy free but there are some dairy-free milk chocolate alternatives that are closely mimicking their dairy-laden twins.
- Baked goods – typically regarded as gluten-filled goodness, the baked goods industry has made huge strides in creating baked goods that are still soft and fluffy but are allergen-free.
- Crackers – the perfect blend of salt and crunch, many free-from crackers fly under the radar and can be mistaken for traditional crackers
- Protein bars – Nuts, peanut butter, whey protein, eggs – all are the usual suspects in protein bars. Imagine a protein bar that is tasty and fits within the parameters of the free-from movement. It is being done!
- Frozen desserts – I scream, you scream. We all want our ice cream! Delicious free-from ice cream alternatives are now an option.
Whether to combat allergies or to make a healthier lifestyle change, joining the free-from movement has never been more convenient or simpler.