Business ideas for 2015: ‘Free from’ foods

With celebrities and health experts praising 'free from' diets and growing awareness of intolerances, the market will keep demanding more variety...

Whether it’s dairy free, gluten free, or wheat free; snacks within this sector are increasingly popular as people become more aware of food intolerances – Allergy UK research states that as many as 25 million people suffer from an allergy, which is some indicator to the potential market value.

And the market is not just confined to people with food intolerance. ‘Free from’ snacks are also gaining interest from a growing number of health conscious eaters who are embracing free from diets – such as vegan, raw and paleo; and celebrities like Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow (who recently released a book on the benefits of a no gluten and wheat diet) are also promoting the trend.

Once considered a small niche area, the market is becoming increasingly buoyant with the main supermarkets introducing whole free from aisles as well as their own branded products and a number of innovative and exciting start-ups making waves in the space.

So, if you’re considering launching your own food business in 2015, a free from range could be your ticket to start-up success (and the UK’s shopping cart).

Starting a free from food company: Why it’s a good business idea

According to Kantar Worldpanel, the free from food market is worth £238m in the UK – and its growing – with leading supermarket Waitrose’s Food & Drink 2014 Report acknowledging that sales of dairy free and wheat free food products jumped by 22% last year.

Veganism is also on the rise. There are currently 150,000 full-time vegans in the UK, people who refrain from eating any animal products including eggs and dairy, and according to the Vegan Society the lifestyle is increasing in popularity as more people choose to try the diet temporarily – whether for ethical or health reasons. Last year the organisation started a new campaign – Veganuary – with over 3,000 people committing to going vegan for the first month of 2014 – so if your product is both free from and vegan the market potential is even larger.

Furthermore Beyoncé, one of the biggest influencers of today’s generation, kicked off this year by launching a vegan food business. Beyoncé’s 22 days nutrition is a vegan food delivery service that is based around the psychologically proven principal that you can break any habit in that time frame; with the celebrity and her business partner and trainer Marco Borges’ mission being to make people change their attitude towards healthy and plant-based diets by getting them to undertake the 22 day challenge.     

Co-founder of Shepherds Markets, Kitty Shepherd, confirmed a rise in consumers looking for vegan and raw food produce, commenting that an increasing number of traders are applying to sell vegan and raw foodstuffs to meet demand.

It’s also possible to put a free from spin on existing products, so the number of products to experiment with is expansive. Glamour Puds, which specialises in free from versions of people’s favourite desserts, and EAT ROAR, which makes luxury handmade and dairy free truffles, are a couple of current examples but there are still so many products that don’t have free from alternatives.

Support for the free from food industry also appears to be growing. The FreeFrom Awards have existed for a number of years but claim to be bigger than ever and German vegan supermarket chain, Veganz, is due to open in London later this year. The launch of the first ever UK free from festival also took place in London in December (with another planned for this summer), which exclusively featured businesses that provide products for people with intolerances.

Free from food business opportunities

According to Allergy UK, the highest food allergies are in wheat, gluten and dairy – so these offer promising markets to tackle. For instance, gluten free, which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, was the most searched for term on the Waitrose website in 2014 – and many big retailers like Tesco and Sainsbury’s have launched their own free from gluten range.

While the big brands are muscling in on the space, there’s still plenty of potential for burgeoning start-ups, particularly at the more premium end of the market. Last year’s FreeFrom Awards’ winner, Focaccia Per Tutti, creates vegan and gluten free focaccia breads which are sold in a number of local delis, restaurants and food stores, and Startups and Young Gun winner PROPERCORN, the gluten-free flavoured popcorn brand, is stocked in over 6,000 stores including Tesco and Waitrose.

The key to a successful free from brand is quite obviously great taste and launching a food production business gives you the opportunity to start out in your kitchen, where you can really refine the perfect-tasting product. However you’ll need to consider health and safety regulations as well as any equipment you might need to purchase.

Alongside taste, the most important element of launching a food business is to get your product stocked in retailers. Freefrom Matters director, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, suggests starting out at a market or pop-up store, to garner feedback and to get your product noticed without the presence of some of the bigger free from brands. Ultimately you’ll want to get a larger listing though. Whole Foods and Holland Barrett are store chains that stock an extensive range of free from foods; however these days all major supermarket chains are opening their doors to free from snacks, with entire areas dedicated to gluten free, dairy free and other free from food brands – so ideally a national listing is key to really gain momentum for your brand.

It’s also worth spending time creating a strong social media presence as both the free from and vegan community are very active on social media. Instagram in particular is a great way to get your product seen and shared by your target audience.

Who else has started a free from food business?

Start-up Primrose’s Kitchen produces a range of free from cereals and nut butters, including gluten free muesli pots and raw almond and hemp seed butter. The food business, which launched just last year, has featured in Vogue, The Telegraph and other mainstream publications, and already stocks in stores nationwide and overseas.

Another business with a range of products is Inspiral, which has a café based in London’s Camden, with products like gluten and dairy free tiramisu pots and vegan chocolate bites – the group sell online and with some retailers but also stock other free from brands (so could be another possible shop front for new start-ups in the industry).

Finally, Startups Awards winner, Rebel Kitchen, is another example of a company creating a free from version of a household product, with its lactose and dairy free alternative to milk. The company’s founder Tamara Arbib initially launched her coconut milk based drinks to the children’s market but since then the business has flourished, growing at a rate of 400% in six months and expanding into the adult market this summer.

Insider opinion

Tamara Arbib, founder of Rebel Kitchen, commented on this rising trend and where the opportunities lie:

“Consumer behaviour has been changing in recent years; people know too much sugar is bad, they are increasingly suspicious of artificial ingredients within diet products, and they want more choices and are embracing their snacks as a part of a health conscious lifestyle choice. Health is more than just nutrition claims, the ongoing consumer trend to try healthier snacks has made way for free from to become a major sector in the snacking industry.

“More than half of free from buyers do not have any food allergies or intolerances, buying free-from products for ‘lifestyle’ reasons. And the market will continue to grow because according to The Grocer last year, over half of consumers still don’t know about free from foods! Of the free from consumers, 45% were those with lactose allergies and intolerances and thus the category with the greatest percentage buyers were the lactose free (28%) and the dairy free (40%) categories. Plus almost half of parents (48%) said there weren’t enough allergy or intolerant specific products for children.

“At Rebel Kitchen we are getting people excited about health food with an engaging and lovable brand, products that taste awesome direct from nature while containing no additives or preservatives and showing that you can be a BIG commercial brand that doesn’t harm people or the food system in the process.”

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