Consumer confusion over free-from allergen labelling

A couple shopping for food

Allergen food labels are a source of confusion for today’s Brits according to latest research from Mintel, as only 37% of consumers agree that it is easy to identify which allergens a product is free from by its label.

Current regulations require allergens to be listed in bold on the ingredients list, though many companies choose to highlight certain free-from credentials on the front of packaging as well. The front-of-pack messaging is not regulated which can fuel confusion among consumers.

Almost half (48%) of those surveyed were unsure whether or not allergen labels are clear, and a further 15% say they are not clear.

The idea of a universal labelling system for allergens on free-from product packaging appealed to 29% of those who have bought/used free-from products, rising to 39% of those users who buy free-from products because of an allergy or intolerance.

The UK free-from market is estimated to be worth £837 million in 2018, with sales growing by 133% over 2013-18.

Emma Clifford, associate director of food and drink at Mintel, said: “Potential changes to allergen labelling has received a lot of high profile media coverage recently, with speculation that the Government is planning to introduce new changes following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette. There is strong demand for a UK-wide labelling system for allergens which would unify the way in which companies communicate this information on packaging.”

Perhaps surprisingly, only 20% of consumers (or other members of their household) avoid certain ingredients due to an allergy or intolerance, which is on a par with those who do so as part of a healthy lifestyle (22%). Of those who have eaten/drunk free-from foods, 28% do not avoid any foods/ingredients.

The most popular free-from foods purchased are gluten-free products, with 27% of consumers having purchased or eaten these over six months (despite only 12% of consumers reporting that they or somebody else in their household avoid gluten). Meanwhile, a quarter (23%) of consumers have purchased dairy substitutes, while 19% have bought dairy-free foods.

The top avoided foods/ingredients are dairy (17%), soya (16%), fish or shellfish (16%), red meat (15%) and lactose (15%)

“Allergies or intolerances aren’t the main reason that consumers are avoiding certain foods or ingredients. Healthy lifestyles and ethical and environmental concerns are also boosting the appeal of these products, with young consumers in particular most likely to be driven by these factors.” said Emma.

“The fact that as many as a quarter of free-from purchasers do not avoid any foods/ingredients reflects that the pool of free-from users is far wider than just those who fully avoid certain ingredients, either due to allergies/intolerances or for other reasons.”

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