'Free-from' foods resonating with American consumers


Foods bearing “free-from” claims are increasingly relevant to Americans, as they perceive the products as closely tied to health, according to new research from global market research firm Mintel. In fact, 84 percent of American "free-from consumers" buy free-from foods because they are seeking out more natural or less processed foods. And 43 percent of consumers agree that free-from foods are more healthful than foods without a free-from claim, while another three in five believe the fewer ingredients a product has, the more healthful it is (59 percent).

Among the top claims free-from consumers deem most important are trans-fat-free (78 percent) and preservative-free (71 percent), Mintel says. GMO-free claims are also important to free-from consumers (58 percent), with 35 percent ranking it as one of their top three most important claims. In fact, interest in GMO-free foods (37 percent) among all consumers outweighs interest in foods free from soy (22 percent), nuts/peanuts (20 percent) and eggs (17 percent). Another popular claim for consumers is sodium-free (57 percent), with 40 percent of surveyed respondents listing it as one of their three most important claims.

“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans-fat-free, no doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the U.S. and its related health consequences," said Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst with Mintel. "Health issues appear to be top of mind among U.S. consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies."

Overall, millennials (60 percent) and Generation X (55 percent) are much more likely than baby boomers (46 percent) to agree that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy, Mintel said. However, only 37 percent of consumers overall agree that products with free-from claims warrant a higher price.

Although 70 percent of Americans buy free-from foods for health and nutritional reasons, personal wellbeing is not the only driving factor, Mintel noted. Consumers also believe that free-from foods are closely tied to the health of the planet. Cage-free and free-range claims are important to 43 percent of free-from consumers, with one quarter (23 percent) ranking such claims as one of their top-three most important free-from claims. When comparing consumer views of free-from claims with environmental impact to claims such as trans-fat-free , environmental claims carry much less weight. However, Mintel's research shows that 70 percent of Americans sometimes, often or always consider a company’s ethics when purchasing products. Furthermore, 56 percent of Americans have stopped buying a company’s products when they have perceived the company's actions as being unethical.