Sector News

“Free from” trends take on myriad of meanings as health and environmental concerns come into sharper focus

November 28, 2021
Food & Drink

Increasingly, global consumers are looking to reduce consumption of certain ingredients that they perceive to have adverse effects on their health or the planet’s health. In fact, the environmental impacts of food are driving purchasing decisions more than ever before. As a result, industry is responding by including prominent “free-from” claims on the front of the pack, illustrating how food products are being tailored to meet consumer needs.

Free-from is becoming much more mainstream, moving beyond food allergens and intolerances. While it’s still vital to innovate products for lactose intolerance, gluten allergies and so forth, the umbrella term of free-from has taken on many different meanings.

What does free-from mean to consumers now that/as planetary health concerns take hold?

Deforestation-free, slaughter-free, palm-oil-free, catch-free, and free-from any animal ingredients is also becoming part of the storytelling process for brands keen to show they understand the intrinsic link between food production and its negative impacts on the environment.

Free-from expansion
Foods that tick the boxes of being good-for-you while being good-for-the-planet take center stage.

This is in line with Innova Market Insights Top Ten Trend for 2022 “Shared Planet,” which underscores how consumers are more ethically and environmentally conscious. Therefore, food brands need to work alongside the public to breed confidence in the claims attached to products.

Meanwhile, data coming out of the recently held Free From Functional & Health Ingredients (FFF&HI) trade show in Amsterdam show how sales growth in the free-from markets accelerated in

Sales in the specific free-from market increased to US$882.1 million in 2020, with dairy-free and lactose-free sales reaching US$615.6 million.

Sugar consumption at center of health
Despite the rise of planetary health concerns, health and well-being play a crucial role in the free-from space – and these trends have been accelerated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers shift their dietary choices toward immunity-boosting products and hone in on healthier options.

As part of this, concern over sugar intake and interest in sugar reduction is driving a sophisticated approach to sweetening. Earlier this year, Innova Market Insights’ Ingredient Insider report analyzed trends in sugar reduction and the use of sweeteners in food and beverage applications.

The market researcher says there is a clear focus across three parallel areas: natural sweeteners, less sweetening and no sweetness.

Innova data also shows that the use of a sugar-related claim in food & beverage launches is increasing globally, featuring a +6% year-over-year growth when comparing 2019 and 2020 launches.

The top positionings of global product F&B launches tracked with a sugar-related claim in 2020 were no added sugar (56%), no additives/preservatives (34%) and gluten-free (32%).

No and low-alcohol trends
Another free-from trend is emerging as Generation Z leads the charge for alcohol-free lifestyles. As more consumers turn their backs on alcohol (or heavily cut down), alcohol-free NPD is hitting shelves satisfying the demand for sophisticated tastes of beers and wines without the alcohol by volume measurement.

Kerry’s recently introduced Botanicals Collection Zero 2.0. It is pegged as an enhanced next-generation range of high-quality, authentic botanical extracts – containing 0% ethanol – designed specifically for the global rapid-growth low- and no-alcohol beverage arena.

The portfolio of tastes enables manufacturers to maintain a low (or zero) alcohol content and permits a “0.0%” claim. Compared to other ethanol-free technologies, the Collection Zero 2.0 range is more stable, with no haze, no sedimentation, and a more complex botanical taste and mouthfeel.

Givaudan also recently unveiled its latest research on “mindful drinking,” offering manufacturers critical insights into what consumers are looking for in low- and no-alcohol drinks and enabling them to create more appealing experiences.

Igor Parshin, the company’s regional category manager for beverages, says the alcohol-free movement can be compared to plant protein’s popularity, with the Swiss flavor house driving change that could be “a win for both consumers and industry.”

Animal-free innovation/ slaughter-free

Plant-based innovation leads in all areas of F&B development. Alternative meat, fish and poultry are gaining traction as consumers want vegan options that are better for them and the environment while tasting good.

At the same time, the cell-based space – meat grown in a lab from animal cells without the need for slaughter – is emerging with the commercialization of products edging ever closer.

In all likelihood, we are on the verge of seeing hybrid products made partly from plant-based ingredients blended with cell-based technologies.

What will the front-of-pack labels look like on these cell-based and plant-based hybrids?

Recently, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit comments and information regarding the labeling of meat and poultry products made using cultured cells derived from animals under FSIS jurisdiction.

FSIS will use these comments to inform future regulatory requirements for the labeling of such food products.
Plant-based and functional offerings are firmly making their mark in the free-form space.

In 2019 USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a formal agreement to jointly oversee the production of human food products made using animal cell culture technology to ensure that such products brought to market are safe, unadulterated and truthfully labeled.

Ditching dairy in confectionery is also on-trend as formulators focus on vegan NPD in chocolate and sweets. Food innovators are finding sophisticated methods of imitating creamy textures in chocolate and enhancing flavor properties, increasing the number of milk-free chocolate interactions.

Big brands are packing milk-free offerings into their portfolios to keep pace with diverse consumer demands for indulgent treats free-from dairy.

Some examples include Nestlé’s vegan KitKat, KitKat V, which uses a rice-based formula as a milk substitute and Lindt’s vegan chocolate range made from oat milk. Earlier this year, Mars also expanded its range of vegan chocolate with Bounty Vegan and Topic Vegan in the UK.

Chocolate and cocoa giant Barry Callebaut recently introduced a 100% dairy-free and plant-based chocolate solution for the sweet snacking category, Dairy-Free Compounds. This new product innovation joins Barry Callebaut’s North American Plantcraft range of dairy-free chocolates, nuts, cocoa powders and cacao fruit experience ingredients.

It is even made in fully segregated production facilities that do not handle dairy. The applications of these dairy-free and plant-based solutions include confectionery, ice cream, bakery and snacks.

What’s next?
Free-from will still be rooted in cleaning up the label, but precisely what this might mean in terms of future front-of-pack claims remains to be seen. While it’s rooted in tackling allergies, intolerances and offering clean label products, the specifics of what a product might be “free-from” will evolve to include more specific sustainability and environmental concerns while honing in even further on health.

By Gaynor Selby


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