'Free-from' food market soars in value to 238bn as over half of all Brits claim to have food intolerances
19:04 GMT, 19 March 2012
For so many years, specialist dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free were considered fun-free too.
The 'free-from' market was a niche area, with products like wheat-free bread of gluten-free flour only available from the most rarefied healthfood shops or specialist outlets.
Now though, so many Brits claim to have a food intolerance or allergy that the market for special foods to help sufferers has become one of the fastest growing in the UK.
Intolerance: Wheat and dairy are two of the main food groups that British people claim they are intolerant to – pushing the value of the 'free-from' market up to 238bn
As many as 25 million people – that's almost half the UK population – say they suffer from food intolerance, according to the charity Allergy UK, with the most common intolerances being to gluten, wheat and dairy products.
As a result the Free From food market, as it is known, has grown by 15 per cent in the last year to be worth a staggering 238 million, say independent retail analysts Kantar Worldpanel.
Tesco spokesman Paul Duszynski said that while the specialist intolerance food market was almost non-existent 10 years ago, today it is growing exponentially.
'Just 10 years ago if you suffered from a food allergy you would have to go out of your way to specialist health shops in order to find dairy, wheat or gluten free foods,' he said.
'There weren’t many from which to choose, and they often tasted quite bland.
'Tesco was the first UK retailer to launch a Free From brand back in 2003 and we’re proud that we’re still leading the way by introducing new products for our customers.
Dairy is one of the more common food groups people claim to be intolerant to
'People who used to suffer the symptoms of intolerance or allergy in silence can now easily find high quality wheat, gluten and dairy free products when they do their weekly shop.'
Lindsey McManus, Deputy Chief Executive at Allergy UK, the country’s leading charity dealing with allergies said: 'Often it is the simple everyday foods that sufferers are looking for.
'We are seeing an increased choice and a wider variety of foods in store specifically for those with food allergies and intolerances.
'Foods that can be picked up with the weekly shop are making, what is a difficult job for food allergy and intolerance sufferers, much easier.
But with such a high number of Brits now claiming they are intolerant or even allergic to common food groups, it has become impossible to know how many of the people claiming
to be intolerant are simply choosing the 'free-from' foods either as a
lifestyle choice, or because they wish to adopt whichever diet might be
trendy at the time.
Indeed, experts have gone as far as
to suggest that a generation of Britons could be putting their health at
risk by wrongly self-diagnosing a food allergy or intolerance.
‘Instead of having their condition
medically diagnosed and treating the root cause of their symptoms,
millions of people are needlessly cutting whole food groups out of their
diet,’ says Dr Carina Venter, allergy specialist at the University of
And while this report puts the figures of purported sufferers at almost 50 per cent, Dr Venter says the real figure lies somewhere between 1 and 2 per cent. ‘The health implications of limiting the diet in this way can be far worse than food allergies or intolerances themselves – and it only takes a few years of cutting food groups out to have a much longer-term impact, she warned.
If you think you have a food intolerance, Dr Venter says to see your GP for a referral to a dietitian. ‘They will ask you to keep a food and symptoms diary and, from that, to try to establish a pattern,’ she says.
'Often you’ll be asked to do a home trial of an elimination diet, followed by reintroduction of the avoided foods one by one to see if any cause a reaction. This is the only reliable way of diagnosing food intolerances at present.'